US and China seek to ease strained ties as the world roils

China says it wants to bolster climate cooperation with US 

Blinken and NSA Sullivan are expected to urge China to play a constructive role

The goal is to set the stage for another Biden-Xi summit

Washington: In the midst of two active and potentially world-changing conflicts in the Middle East and Europe, the U.S. is hoping to find at least a small measure of common ground as China’s top diplomat visits Washington this week.

Over three days of meetings that began Thursday, top Biden administration officials, including possibly the president himself, will press Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the importance of China stepping up its role on the world stage if it wants to be considered a responsible major international player.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, are both expected to urge China to play a constructive role in both the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars. Those meetings could set the stage for a summit between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders gathering in San Francisco.

The U.S. has been disappointed with China over its support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and its relative silence on the Middle East. In addition, the world’s two largest economies are at odds on issues such as human rights, climate change, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

Still, both sides have expressed a willingness to talk with each other since Blinken canceled a planned visit to China in February after the shootdown of a Chinese spy balloon over the U.S., which marked a low point in recent relations.

In the months that followed that crisis, however, Blinken rescheduled his trip and went to China in June. He was followed in quick succession by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, climate envoy John Kerry and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

In addition, Sullivan met with Wang in Malta in mid-September ahead of Blinken’s discussions with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng later that month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. And Blinken spoke just last week with Wang about the Israel-Hamas crisis.

The goal, according to U.S. officials, is to set the stage for another Biden-Xi summit at which the two leaders could explore cooperation or at least easing outright hostility on the most pressing matters of the day.

“Wang Yi’s visit will serve as one of the final touch-points in laying the groundwork” for the Biden-Xi meeting, said Ryan Hass, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank. “Wang’s meetings in Washington will set the contours for the topics the two leaders will discuss when they meet in November.”

“It opens the possibility of the world’s two largest powers pursuing coordinated efforts to limit escalation or expansion of violence in Ukraine and the Middle East,” he said.

Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, another Washington think tank, said Wang’s trip signals that the Xi-Biden summit is almost certain.

“Wang is here to pave the ground for Xi’s San Francisco trip. That’s the core focus of the trip. It means issues will be negotiated, solutions will be discussed and details will be deliberated and inked,” Sun said. “The APEC summit is 20 days away, so time is of essence. His trip means that Xi is coming. Xi’s coming means meeting with Biden. The Xi-Biden summit means efforts to stabilize bilateral ties.”

Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said Wang’s trip could yield results such as additional direct flights between the two countries, visas for more journalists and even agreements on climate change and resumption of high-level military dialogue.

Image courtesy of Foreign Policy

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