By Spy Uganda Correspondent
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Beijing for a high-stakes visit meant to steer relations between the United States and China back on course, after months of inflamed tensions.
Mr Blinken is the first secretary of state to travel to China in five years and the most senior US official to make such a mission since President Joe Biden took office in early 2021.
Officials from both governments have signaled low expectations for the visit, with a senior State Department official telling reporters earlier this week that he does not expect “a long list of deliverables.”
Instead, US officials are framing the trip as an effort to resume normal channels of communication with China in order to avoid conflict between two of the globe’s great powers.
Prior to his visit, Mr Blinken said: “What we’re working to do on this trip is to really carry forward what President Biden and President Xi Jinping agreed to in Bali at the end of last year.
“Which was to establish sustained, regular lines of communication at senior levels across our governments precisely so that we can make sure that we are communicating as clearly as possible to avoid, as best possible, misunderstandings and miscommunications,”
His primary goal in China is to reestablish channels of communication, especially direct military-to-military communication, between Washington and Beijing, according to a senior State Department official.
Mr Blinken touched down in Beijing on Sunday morning with a full schedule for the first day where he is expected to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in the afternoon.
On Monday, he is scheduled for a meeting with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, as well as roundtable talks with American exchange students and business leaders.
Observers will also be closely watching for whether a meeting with President Xi will be on the cards.
Previous trips by America’s top diplomat have often involved a face to face with China’s top leader, but relations are at their lowest in decades.
The Biden administration’s relationship with Beijing is one of its most complicated and consequential, and one that has seen months of strain, including two military-related incidents in recent weeks.
Mr Blinken’s trip, which had been announced by Biden and Xi after their meeting last year, was originally scheduled to happen in February and had been seen as a key follow-on engagement.
However, it was postponed after the discovery of a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the US, which Mr Blinken said at the time “created the conditions that undermine the purpose of the trip.”
Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said on Wednesday that both the US and China came “to the shared conclusion that now is the right time to engage at this level,” but “we’re not going to Beijing with the intent of having some sort of breakthrough or transformation in the way that we deal with one another.”
“I think the fact that China agreed to this meeting reflects that Beijing is feeling pretty confident about its own position,” Patricia Kim, a Brookings Institution fellow, said at a media briefing on Friday.
“Both sides make comments about the fact that this trip, this visit isn’t going to fundamentally change the US-China relationship or resolve the many disputes between the two countries, and I think there’s this desire not to set expectations too high or to appear too eager to engage with the other side,” she said.
“I think neither side wants to look as if they’re accepting or acquiescing to the other’s actions.”
Speaking to reporters Saturday, President Biden acknowledged “legitimate differences” with China but maintained he was willing to discuss the “areas we can get along.”
Mr Blinken said that in his meetings with senior Chinese officials, he intends to raise “our very real concerns on a range of issues.”
Those issues include the fentanyl crisis, Taiwan and cross-Strait issues, the war in Ukraine, and China’s detention of American citizens, including Kai Li, Mark Swidan and David Lin.