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US, China seek to thaw tensions, pave way for meeting between Biden, Xi

The U.S. and China are seeking to thaw icy tensions between the world’s two superpowers and pave the way for a face-to-face meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping later this year. 

Xi’s welcoming of Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a private meeting Monday in Beijing signals the seriousness with which China is open to repairing ties. 

While Xi rejected Blinken’s request to set up a direct military-to-military hotline that would serve to quickly address confrontations, the Chinese leader greenlighted his most senior deputies to schedule in-person talks in Washington.

In remarks ahead of the meeting with Blinken, Xi said he is intent on getting back to the “common understandings” reached with Biden when the two met last year in Bali, Indonesia, and he called for “stabilizing China-U.S. relations.”

Biden has looked at dealing with Xi personally to manage the U.S. relationship with China as one of the most consequential challenges of his presidency and political legacy —– one that has already become a key point of attack from Republicans leading up to the 2024 election. 

GOP lawmakers have issued a flurry of criticisms against Biden in response to reports the administration has held back on sanctions against China in an effort to improve ties. They’ve also called out the earlier travel of senior State Department officials to Beijing on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Biden’s strategy a “misguided and myopic pursuit of engagement.” 

In the Senate, Republicans sent a letter to Biden last week urging him to “stand up to Beijing’s efforts to coerce the United States into silence,” following a report by the Financial Times that China was stalling Blinken’s visit to the country over concerns the FBI would release the results of its investigation into the Chinese spy balloon, discovered in the U.S. in February.

Biden has framed his strategy toward China as investing in the U.S. and repairing ties with allies to better challenge Beijing — economically, diplomatically, technologically and militarily. 

At the same time, Biden has said China’s cooperation is necessary to confront existential threats of climate change, prevent the next pandemic and improve the global economy. 

It’s a fraught balance where Beijing has used America’s desire for cooperation as leverage for its priorities, cutting off communication channels in retaliation for U.S. support for Taiwan, casting Washington as the aggressor in response to sanctions on human rights abuses and civil oppression. 

Despite welcoming the secretary of State, Xi still held a hard line Monday, rejecting Blinken’s request to set up a direct hotline that would serve to quickly address tensions — with close calls between jets and warships in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait in recent weeks underscoring the danger. 

Still, a priority for Xi is countering the slowing Chinese economy. It’s viewed as a major threat to the regime’s stability and legitimacy, and engaging with the U.S. is necessary.

The Chinese leader is under pressure over concerns Biden will issue an executive order limiting U.S. investment in the country over national security concerns.

Ahead of Blinken’s visit, the administration added 43 international companies with links to China’s military to its “entity list,” blacklisting them from accessing U.S. technology and “know-how,” citing Chinese efforts to learn Western aircraft maneuvers and tactics for hypersonic weapons development, among other concerns. 

And while Biden officials say efforts to diversify supply chains and trade deals away from China is to invest in redundancy, Beijing views those actions as a form of aggression.  

Blinken said one of the most important points he made on his trip was to “disabuse our Chinese hosts of the notion that we are seeking to economically contain them.”

Shirley Yu, a fellow with the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, said China is intent on resetting the economic relationship with the U.S., even as it spurns Biden’s stance on Taiwan and other criticisms from Washington. 

Xi is looking to host Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to “potentially bring the needed economic relief for which China hopes.”

But will it lead to a top meeting between Xi and Biden? Yu said that it’s not a high priority for the Chinese leader. 

“From China’s perspective, a head-of-state meeting is not of urgent need but probably a necessary one to convene at some point,” she said.

Source: The Hill

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