While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a rare trip to Beijing on Monday, China and the United States failed to make any significant progress. Instead, they agreed to calm down their heated rivalry so that it does not escalate into conflict.
The Great Hall of the People, a regal location typically used to greet heads of state, was the setting where Chinese President Xi Jinping greeted "progress" after shaking hands with Blinken.
Both the top U.S. diplomat and Xi emphasized the value of having a more stable relationship because any conflict between the two biggest economies in the world would have a negative impact on the entire world.
China refused to consider the United States request to reopen military-to-military channels, citing U.S. sanctions as a barrier. Over issues ranging from Taiwan to trade, as well as U.S. policy toward China's chip industry, human rights, and Russia's conflict with Ukraine, the two sides appeared to be firmly entrenched in their positions.
Later on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that he believes bilateral relations are headed in the right direction and that Blinken's visit had resulted in progress.
Regarding ties between the US and China, Biden said, "We're on the right track here." During a trip to California, he was asked by reporters if he thought there had been any progress. He responded, "I don't feel," he said. "You're aware that it was made."
However, he claimed that making progress was not simple.
Before leaving China, Blinken said, "The relationship was at a point of instability and both sides recognized the need to work to stabilize it."
But progress is difficult. It requires time. And it isn't the result of just one encounter, journey, or discussion. We will have better communication and engagement going forward, which is my hope and expectation.
Although American officials had been downplaying the possibility of a significant breakthrough, they hoped that Blinken's visit would open the door for additional bilateral meetings, including potential visits by the secretaries of the Treasury and of Commerce.
It was hoped that it would even open the door for Xi and Biden to meet later in the year.
Although their relationship has since deteriorated, Biden and Xi last met in November on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Indonesia. At that time, they agreed to communicate more frequently.
"The two sides have also made strides and come to an understanding on a few particular issues. On Monday, Xi spoke to Blinken across a large table covered in pink flowers and said, "This is very good.
In response, Blinken stated that the two nations must manage their relationship.
His encounters in Beijing, which included discussions with China's top diplomat Wang Yi and foreign minister Qin Gang, had been "candid and constructive," according to Blinken.
Although Xi told Blinken that China "hopes to see a sound and steady China-U.S. relationship" and that the countries "can overcome various difficulties," according to a Chinese readout of the discussions, it was unclear from Xi's remarks what progress he was referring to.
Additionally, Xi pleaded with Washington not to "hurt China's legitimate rights and interests," a warning of potential flashpoints like Taiwan, the democratic island Beijing claims as its own.
According to Blinken, he made it clear that the United States needs much more assistance from China in order to stop the flow of fentanyl, and the two sides decided to form a working group to address the issue.
Taiwan Core Issue
International trepidation has resulted from the two nations' inability to communicate openly, and Beijing's resistance to holding frequent military-to-military talks with Washington has alarmed China's neighbors.
Yang Tao, a senior official in the foreign ministry, told reporters after the talks that U.S. sanctions were impeding progress on enhancing military-to-military communications.
Since 2018, Chinese defense minister Li Shangfu has been subject to sanctions due to his acquisition of combat aircraft and equipment from Rosoboronexport, Russia's primary arms exporter.
When asked what specific strides the two sides had made, Yang replied that they had decided to stop the relationship from deteriorating further. The representative added that Blinken's request to visit the US had been granted by Qin, the Chinese foreign minister.
Analysts said that Xi's remarks and the diplomatic staging of the visit seemed to indicate a desire to advance.
"China's messaging has been pretty positive," said Wu Xinbo, a professor and the director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.
"China demonstrated that it remains committed to fostering positive relations with the United States. Though it may not be upbeat about Sino-U.S. relations, China, in my opinion, is also not devoid of hope.
Throughout Blinken's visit, Beijing maintained a particularly sharp tone toward Taiwan.
According to the Chinese readout, Wang stated that "China has no room for compromise or concessions."
Regarding whether it would use military force to retaliate against an attack on Taiwan, which Beijing has refused to rule out, the United States has maintained a position of "strategic ambiguity" for a long time.