President Joe Biden will launch the next phase of his Chinese policy with a push for high-level meetings with Beijing officials after five months of pursuing a tough position.
The United States and China are discussing a possible meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a G20 meeting in Italy next week, according to three people briefed on the talks.
The Biden administration has also told Beijing it would like to send Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, to China during the summer.
The White House also plans to call with Xi Jinping, who would be just Biden’s second engagement as president of the United States with his Chinese counterpart.
In the early months of his presidency, Biden stressed that he would take a patient approach toward China while focusing on U.S. strengthening in the country and supporting alliances.
The decision to intensify engagement significantly with China comes after Washington took major steps in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and after months of discussions with allies that have produced harsh common statements about Chinese behavior at the summits, including the G7.
The White House also held preliminary internal discussions on the sending of Blinken or Jake Sullivan, national security adviser, to China later this year, who could prepare the stage for Biden and Xi to hold a bilateral summit on the sidelines of G20 leaders meeting in Rome in October.
“The administration has started from the beginning to follow its policies [first] focusing on invigorating the United States and gaining control of the pandemic and renewing our alliances and partnerships, ”said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert on the German Marshall Fund.
“Now they believe this is the time to turn to engagement, even if they probably won’t call it that, and start the dialogue with China.”
The move will provoke criticism from hawks who had praised Biden for taking an unexpected look hard position on Beijing. But it will be welcomed by the business community, which is concerned about the deterioration of relations.
A Blinken-Wang meeting would mark the first high-level engagement since Blinken and Sullivan met their counterparts in Alaska in March. A U.S. official said it would be an opportunity to continue discussions on issues that have been raised in Anchorage behind closed doors after a fiery public outcry.
At the end of this meeting, Blinken made it clear to Yang Jiechi, the first Chinese foreign policy official, that he was not prepared to travel to China for further discussions despite receiving an invitation.
It is unclear whether Beijing will agree to the meetings. The U.S. official said China had not said whether it would receive Sherman, who would be the only high-ranking Biden official to visit outside of John Kerry, the climate negotiator who met his counterpart. in Shanghai in April.
Overcoming the challenges to the relationship, China continues ignore a Pentagon request for Lloyd Austin, secretary of defense, to speak to General Xu Qiliang, China’s highest military officer. The Financial Times reported last month that China had rejected three call requests. A U.S. defense official said the situation had not changed.
The White House and the state department have not commented on negotiations for the diplomatic engagement. But Sullivan last week suggested Biden will speak soon with Xi, following the Geneva summit of US President Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader.
Sullivan said Biden promised to talk to Xi “to take stock” of the relationship. “We’re very involved in this. Now it’s just a matter of when and how,” he said.
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