Senior US diplomat to visit China on top-level visit under Biden

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit China this weekend to deal with deteriorating relations, the two countries said on Wednesday during the highest-level visit under President Joe Biden.

The journey continues despite new almost daily divisions between the two powers, especially in human rights and cybersecurity, with both sides saying they want to at least try to bring more stability to a relationship often described as the most important to the world.

Sherman hopes to show China “what responsible and healthy competition looks like,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“We welcome this fierce competition, but we also want to make sure that the playing field is level and, most importantly, that competition does not escalate into conflict. We want to make sure it’s a relationship that has safeguards, ”Price said.

Chinese state-owned newspaper Global Times, a tabloid that reflects nationalist views, quoted an expert as saying “a more stable China-US relationship will benefit the world,” but also warning that there might not be any other discussions depending on what Sherman is trying to discuss.

If the United States raises rights concerns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, “it must know that it is wasting time,” he said, citing another expert.

The trip will not have the attire of a full-fledged official visit. Sherman will not be going to Beijing, but will instead spend two days starting Sunday in Tianjin, an eastern port city.

She will meet with senior officials in Tianjin, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the State Department and China’s Foreign Ministry said.

John Kerry, former secretary of state-turned-US climate envoy, is the only other top official in the Biden administration to visit China, as the world’s two biggest emitters pledge to work together on the planetary crisis, despite their differences.

Kerry also did not have talks in the capital, but did meet with her climate counterpart in Shanghai, where there were few public comments from the generally media friendly former senator.

Wendy Sherman | REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, met in March in Alaska with Wang and senior official Yang Jiechi in a visibly tense meeting in which the Chinese side chastised United States in front of the cameras.

Since last week, the United States has publicly accused Beijing of carrying out the massive Microsoft Exchange hack in March and issued a business advisory warning of the risks in Hong Kong. The US Senate also voted to ban imports from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.

China denounced what it called a “fabricated” campaign by the United States, which rallied allies, including Japan and NATO, in a rare common condemnation of alleged cyberattacks.

Like Blinken before the Alaskan talks, Sherman seeks to show a united front by traveling to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia before Tianjin.

A State Department announcement regarding his trip last week raised eyebrows by not including China, indicating that the two sides were continuing to negotiate the visit.

The trip could help set the stage for further exchanges and a possible meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year, possibly on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Italy in late October.

Ryan Hass, a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, said he expects the United States and China to ensure discussions are “frank.”

“Given the current tensions in relations and the possibility of a meeting between the two leaders at the G20 in October, I suspect that both sides have decided to focus on substantive issues,” he said. .

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported last week that China is planning deputy foreign minister Xie Feng to meet with Sherman, but the two sides are discussing the details of the protocol.

“Our high-level engagement is a precious resource, so we wanted to make sure that we were going to have substantial and constructive exchanges with senior PRC officials,” a senior US administration official told reporters.

“This is exactly what we think we are getting with this reunion that we are going to have with Wang Yi.”

North Korea, the climate and Iran are common issues she hopes to make progress on in China, despite a conflicted relationship that has plunged relations to their worst level in decades.

“We certainly have conversations going on about potential ways to work together on common issues,” a second senior official said.

Biden has largely maintained the hawkish stance on China of his predecessor, Donald Trump, with U.S. policymakers from all parties saying an increasingly assertive Beijing is the main challenge for the United States.

But Biden has promised a more focused approach to working with allies on China and toned down the harshest statements about the end of Trump’s tenure.

The State Department also announced that Sherman would continue in Oman.

The Gulf Sultanate has been the key intermediary between the United States and Iran, a diplomacy in which Sherman was closely involved under former President Barack Obama.

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