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What Does Antony Blinken’s Visit to China Mean? Can It Improve US-China Relations?

Amid escalating tensions and complex dynamics between the US and China, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing marks an effort to manage these strained relations. The Secretary of State met with his Chinese counterpart Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing, in what the US State Department characterised as a “candid, substantive, and constructive” discussion.  

The year 2023 has seen strain in US-China relations. The continued strategic competition between the two nations has far-reaching global implications. The increasing tensions center around competing interests in areas such as technology, trade, human rights, and particularly the issue of Taiwan.

In the backdrop of the continued US engagement with its Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, the possibility of escalation looms large. The Joe Biden administration’s goal is to manage these tensions responsibly and minimise the risk of an unintended conflict, while standing firm on American principles and interests.

Maintaining dialogue amid rising tensions

Despite a backdrop of intensifying frictions, particularly over Taiwan and the South China Sea, Blinken’s trip signifies the importance of dialogue. The visit has also reopened the door for high-level diplomatic engagement for the first time since 2018. While the trip underscores a departure from the previous confrontational approach, expectations for significant breakthroughs remain low.

The underlying agenda of the visit revolves around stabilising strained relations and advancing the interests of the US and its allies, while also exploring potential areas of cooperation. A pivotal focus of the discussions was crisis management mechanisms, a vital step towards reducing the risk of conflict. However, even though both sides agreed to continue the dialogue, they acknowledged that progress on divisive issues remains elusive.

Economic motivations and strategic concerns

The economic motivations and strategic concerns driving the two powers are starkly evident. For the US, there’s the looming fear of South China Sea conflicts and a fentanyl crisis. For China, addressing economic challenges and avoiding sanctions are pressing issues, particularly as it grapples with semiconductor restrictions and seeks to manage the bilateral relationship carefully.

China’s desire for American investment and trade to support its economic recovery also can’t be overlooked. China has made it clear that any discussion on the Taiwan issue would be unacceptable, framing it as an internal matter. This might limit the effectiveness of the dialogue, given that Taiwan remains one of the most volatile flashpoints between the two countries. 

The meeting also provided an opportunity for both nations to clarify their respective positions and to underscore the importance of managing their differences constructively.

Does Blinken’s visit signal a change in US-China relations?

Despite the significant hurdles, Blinken’s visit could be viewed as a tentative step towards more regular dialogue and constructive engagement between the two superpowers. His emphasis on “working with China where it is in our interest to do so” hints at an increasing realisation of the need for cooperation on global issues like climate change and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

However, it would be premature to say that this visit heralds a significant thawing in US-China relations. The scale of the differences between the two countries, especially over Taiwan and the South China Sea, cannot be overlooked. 

Moreover, US public opinion towards China has become increasingly negative over the past few years, putting further constraints on the administration’s diplomatic efforts.

While Blinken’s visit is unlikely to resolve the deep-seated differences between the US and China, it could set the stage for a period of less confrontational, more predictable, and potentially more productive engagement. Though, the re-establishment of high-level diplomatic engagement could serve as a basis for more consistent and reliable communication between the two powers. This in itself could play a vital role in managing the various flashpoints in the relationship and reducing the risk of an unintended escalation.

Leaders of the two countries, President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping may have the opportunity to meet during the G20 meet in New Delhi later this year. “I’m hoping that, over the next several months, I’ll be meeting with [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] again and talking about legitimate differences we have but also how there’s areas we can get along,” Biden had said at last year’s G20 meet in Bali. 

Source : ZeeBusiness



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