US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “had candid and constructive discussions on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues” with top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Thursday – the latest in a series of increased high-level interactions between Washington and Beijing.
Their meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Jakarta comes less than a month after the two met in Beijing for what was also described by the US as “candid and constructive” conversation.
Wang, who is the top foreign policy chief for the Chinese Communist Party, attended the diplomatic gathering in place of China’s Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, who is unable to attend due to health reasons, Reuters reported, citing a spokesman for his ministry.
Efforts to stabilize the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies have intensified in recent months following a period of immense friction between the United States and China.
There were no “breakthroughs” from the meeting in Jakarta, a senior State Department official said, but “that wasn’t the intention.”
Instead, the hour and half long meeting was intended as a follow-up to previous conversations in Beijing, and the two top diplomats “were able to pick up where they left off, and then take the conversations to the next level of detail,” the official told press traveling with Blinken.
“The conversation was a bit more focused on action, and concrete next steps,” they added.
According to a readout from State Department spokesperson Matt Miller, Blinken and Wang discussed “areas of difference and potential areas of cooperation.”
“The Secretary used the meeting to advance U.S. interests and values, to directly raise concerns shared by the United States and allies and partners regarding PRC actions, and advocate for progress on transnational challenges that affect people in the United States, the PRC, and around the world,” Miller said.
Blinken “emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” and “made clear” to Wang “that the United States, together with our allies and partners, will advance our vision for a free, open, and rules-based international order.”
Wang told Blinken the “critical next step” for China and the US is to “take real actions to put the bilateral relationship back on the right track,” according to a readout from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
He urged the US to take a “rational and pragmatic approach,” expand diplomatic and security communications with China and promote people-to-people exchanges.
“The United States must refrain from wantonly interfering in China’s internal affairs, refrain from compromising China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, stop suppressing China’s economy, trade and technology, and lift illegal and unreasonable sanctions against China,” Wang said, according to the readout.
Blinken and Wang “spent a fair amount of time talking about fentanyl,” the senior State Department official said.
“In particular, he emphasized the importance of the US and China working together to disrupt the global flow of synthetic drugs, particularly fentanyl, and their precursor chemicals into the US to save American lives,” the official said.
Following the meeting in Beijing, Blinken said that the two sides were trying to establish a working group on the illicit drug.
“I wouldn’t say there was progress” on the establishment of the working group, the official said Thursday, but the issue was “discussed in depth.”
Many of the precursor chemicals used to manufacture fentanyl come from China. Chinese officials have continued to say they cannot cooperate with the US on the challenge because of sanctions on a Chinese lab and the recent arrest of Chinese nationals in Fiji who were involved in drug trafficking to the US and Mexico, a senior administration official told CNN earlier this week.
Indeed, numerous key issues between the US and China remain.
Just this week, Microsoft announced it had discovered that China-based hackers had breached email accounts at two-dozen organizations, including some US government agencies, in an apparent spying campaign aimed at acquiring sensitive information.
Blinken “raised” the matter with Wang, and “made clear that any action that targets US government, US companies, US citizens is a big concern and we’ll respond appropriately,” a second senior State Department official said.
The official said they would not “get into the specifics” of the extent to which the hack was raised in Blinken’s meeting with Wang in Jakarta, nor would they characterize the US or Chinese response.
“We have consistently made clear that any action that targets US government, US companies, American citizens, is a deep concern to us and that we will take appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable and the secretary made that clear again tonight,” the official said.
Blinken “underscored it’s a priority for us to resolve cases of American citizens who are wrongfully detained or subjected to exit bans in China,” and also “raised US concerns about PRC human rights abuses in China,” the State Department official said Thursday.
They also discussed the war in Ukraine, the official said, and a second senior State Department official said China took note of the NATO communique from Vilnius but there was “not extensive discussion” about it.
High-level military to military communication channels remain frozen, with Beijing demanding that the US lift sanctions on its defense chief before conversations take place. But right now that is “not being actively considered,” the senior administration official said earlier this week.
“Even if that [issue] were to be removed – they’ve got another long list of reasons that they can’t meet, or cooperate or coordinate or have working level contact. So I don’t see that as something on the horizon,” the official said.
Blinken discussed the need for communication in the military to military channels with Wang, but it wasn’t an “extensive” part of the conversation, the second official said.
“No progress to report tonight,” the first official said. “I think the secretary again underscored we have a responsibility to keep our channels of communication open, including between our two militaries. And I think it’s urgent that we do so. We haven’t achieved that yet. We’re working at it.”
The top US diplomat “underscored it’s a priority for us to resolve cases of American citizens who are wrongfully detained or subjected to exit bans in China,” and also “raised US concerns about PRC human rights abuses in China,” the official said.
The first official said they expect conversations to continue on both sides about a whole range of issues, and “you shouldn’t be surprised to see officials traveling both ways across the Pacific and we’ll pick up on where the conversation ended tonight to try to advance the ball on key issues.”
Indeed, the Biden administration feels that the US and China are “getting back to normal in the sense of pace of diplomacy,” the senior administration official told CNN earlier this week.
Both Blinken and Yellen claimed they had made some progress in efforts to re-establish bilateral communications aimed at responsibly managing the relationship.
“It was clear coming in that the relationship was at a point of instability,” Blinken said at a news conference at the end of his trip last month. “And both sides recognized the need to work to stabilize it.”
“We’re not going to have success on every issue between us on any given day, but in a whole variety of areas, on the terms that we set for this trip, we have made progress and we are moving forward,” he said, stressing that “none of this gets resolved with one visit, one trip, one conversation. It’s a process.”
“Broadly speaking, I believe that my bilateral meetings – which totaled about 10 hours over two days – served as a step forward in our effort to put the US-China relationship on surer footing,” Yellen said Sunday, at the end of her trip.
“Even where we don’t see eye-to-eye, I believe there is clear value in the frank and in-depth discussions we had on the opportunities and challenges in our relationship, and the better understanding it gave us of each country’s actions and intentions,” she said.