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Blinken-Wang Meeting Begins as US, China Look to Cool Tensions

·4 min read

(Bloomberg) -- US Secretary of State Antony Blinken began meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of a G-20 meeting Saturday, the latest signal that the two sides want to ensure ongoing tensions don’t turn into a bigger crisis.

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While the Ukraine war, a global food crisis and the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have dominated discussions at the G-20, the meeting between Wang and Blinken at the Ritz Carlton in Bali is the most anticipated event of the gathering.

“There is no substitute for face-to-face, or sometimes mask-to-mask, diplomacy,” Blinken said ahead of the meeting and working lunch. “In a relationship as complex and consequential as the one between the United States and China, there is a lot to talk about.”

Wang responded, saying it was necessary for both countries to maintain “normal” exchanges. “We do need to work together to ensure that this relationship will continue to move forward along the right track,” he added.

The two leaders are expected to address key bilateral tensions -- including human rights and economic disputes -- as well as the war in Ukraine and the pressure campaign against Russia, which US officials would like to see Beijing embrace. Their talks will also help lay the groundwork for an expected call between President Joe Biden and President Xi Jinping later this month.

Ahead of the meeting, a senior State Department official said the meeting with Wang was part of numerous high level engagements with China that were designed to responsibly manage the intense competition between the two nations. Blinken was accompanied by the US ambassador to China Nicholas Burns and Laura Rosenberg, the senior director for China and Taiwan on the National Security Council, who both flew in for the meeting.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters on Tuesday that the meeting would be an opportunity to convey American expectations about what “we would expect China to do, and not to do, in the context of Ukraine.”

The Chinese side has been less forthcoming about the meeting, saying only that the two diplomats would “exchange views on current China-US relations and major international and regional issues,” according to a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry.

Blinken Tells Russian Diplomats to Stop Blocking Ukraine Grain

A productive meeting with Wang that keeps tensions from escalating, and avoids controversy, would likely be seen as a victory for US officials. The US delegation was pleasantly surprised by China’s statements at a Friday session on food security and by the broader degree of opposition to Russia shown by the vast majority of delegations at the G-20 meeting, according to an official who asked not to be identified discussing behind-the-scenes talks.

Before walking into the meeting with Blinken, Wang did not reply when a reporter asked whether China believed in Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Tariffs

No breakthrough is expected on the issue of about $300 billion in US tariffs on Chinese goods. Biden was scheduled to discuss possible reductions in tariffs -- first imposed during Donald Trump’s presidency -- in a meeting with advisers in Washington on Friday afternoon. Some aides -- including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen -- believe reducing the tariffs could help the administration address surging inflation.

Yellen begins her first trip to Asia as Treasury secretary this weekend, a 10-day journey that includes stops in Tokyo, Seoul and Bali, where finance ministers from the G-20 are meeting July 15-16.

China’s Commerce Ministry welcomed the news of the potential removal of tariffs on Chinese goods and called on the US to meet China halfway and make joint efforts to maintain the stability of global trade and industrial supply chains.

Yellen Heads to Asia With Russia Oil-Price-Cap Top of Mission

But on other fronts, tensions are still rising. Bloomberg reported this week that Washington is pushing Dutch semiconductor-equipment maker ASML to expand exports restrictions on China, a move that Beijing quickly decried as “technological terrorism” by the US.

There have also been reports that the administration intends to expand the use of export controls meant to prevent companies like Huawei Technologies Co. from accessing cutting-edge technology seen as a threat to US national security.

And US and Chinese officials continue to have talks aimed at keeping about 200 Chinese stocks from losing their listings on New York exchanges.

US-China Talks Over Delisting Stocks Hinge on Redacted Audits

China’s human rights record is also expected to feature in the discussion, in particular over the alleged use of forced labor in its far western Xinjiang region.

Late last month, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act came into effect, blocking imports from the Xinjiang region unless companies can prove they weren’t made with forced labor. Beijing has dismissed such allegations, calling them the “lie of the century.”

(Updates with the start of the meetings, comments from Blinken and Wang)

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