Blinken goes to Beijing

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Beijing yesterday (Sunday), marking the first visit to China by a top American diplomat since 2018.

That’s a long time between visits for two competing major powers. So it’s not surprising Blinken’s meeting with his counterpart Qin Gang ran for almost six hours (before they kicked on for a working dinner afterwards).

Each side had a long (and growing) list of grievances to get through. China remains irritated by America’s:

  • 💣 arms sales and other support for Taiwan
  • 🙅‍♀️ continued tariffs on $300B in Chinese goods
  • 👨‍💻 heavy restrictions on China’s access to advanced tech, and
  • 🚢 regular military and intelligence activities along China’s coast.

For its part, the US remains concerned by China’s:

  • 😨 continued intimidation of Taiwan
  • 🛩️ dangerous manoeuvres in international waters and airspace
  • 🤐 refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and
  • ✊ human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and elsewhere.

Both China and the US released statements after yesterday’s marathon discussions. And by recent standards, both were pretty cordial.

Intrigue’s take: But the two sides are still so far apart, not just on the substance, but on how to approach the substance. The US wants “guardrails” to help manage the risk of US-China competition veering into conflict.

But China views “guardrails” as code for normalising the above US activities China doesn’t like. So for China’s part, the way to manage all this risk is for the US to back off, rather than pressure China into accepting “guardrails”.

None of this will get better without talking. But it may not get better with talking, either.

Also worth noting:

  • In breaking news, US officials have said Blinken will also meet China’s President Xi Jinping today (Monday) before departing China.
  • China’s foreign ministry spokesperson struck a hopeful tone about Blinken’s visit on Twitter.