US envoy Sullivan meets top Chinese diplomat amid high tensions

US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser will hold talks with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland on Wednesday, maintaining both countries’ pledges to improve communications amid growing strategic rivalry.

The Zurich meeting comes at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two largest economies over a range of issues, including Taiwan. It will be Sullivan’s first face-to-face meeting with Yang since their acrimonious exchanges in Alaska in March, which also involved US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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The White House said in a statement that the meeting follows Biden’s talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sept. 9 “as we continue to try to responsibly manage competition between the US and the People’s Republic of China.”

That call ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and they discussed the need to ensure competition between the two – with relations sinking to the lowest level in decades – does not A conflict.

Blinken, who is currently visiting Paris, held a phone call with Yang in June, highlighting the need for cooperation and transparency about the origins of COVID-19 and raising other controversial topics, including China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper quoted an official familiar with the arrangements for the Zurich meeting as saying the aim is “to rebuild communication channels and implement the consensus reached” between Xi and Biden. .

With trade tensions also at the top of the US-China agenda, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in Paris to host economic cooperation and development meetings, has said she hopes to hold talks with Chinese counterparts soon.

On Monday, Tai revealed the results of a months-long “top-down” review of China’s trade policy, and pledged to hold “candid” talks with Beijing about breaking promises in former President Donald Trump’s trade deal and ending trade agreements. harmful industrial policy.

The Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, said China is willing to build mutually beneficial trade with the United States, but will not make any concessions on principle and is not afraid of a protracted battle.

“The trade war between China and the US has lasted more than three and a half years. Rather than being weakened, the Chinese economy has taken a step forward compared to the US scale,” the report said.

Little progress

Talks between officials of the two powers since Biden took office in January have yielded little concrete progress. US officials said the Biden-Xi call was a test of whether direct involvement at the highest level could end a stalemate in the tires.

After that phone call, Biden denied a media report that Xi turned down an offer from Biden for a first face-to-face meeting as leaders.

Since then, the US has taken a series of steps to strengthen its hand against China in coordination with allies.

These include the announcement of a trilateral partnership with Britain and Australia called AUKUS to provide the latter with nuclear-powered submarines. Biden also hosted a first in-person summit with Australia, India and Japan, where the ‘Quad’ leaders pledged to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific region, ‘fearless by coercion’.

The White House said Sullivan will also visit Brussels for meetings with NATO and European Union officials, as well as Paris, and brief Europeans about his meeting with Yang.

He said he will discuss at NATO the implementation of a decision at the NATO summit in June to modernize the alliance and its strategic challenges, as well as talk with EU officials about trade, technology and global economic issues.

The Biden administration is also pushing for a massive domestic spending proposal to rebuild domestic infrastructure and industry, in part to boost US competitiveness with China.

‘It’s not a thaw. It’s not a re-engagement,” Evan Medeiros, an Asia specialist in former President Barack Obama’s administration, said of the Zurich meeting. “It’s about getting serious and systematic about competition. That means we have to be very clear about borders, our perception of their behaviour, especially the recent number of air force strikes around Taiwan.”

China has blamed the US for heightened tensions over the democratically-ruled island claimed by Beijing, even as it has carried out an unprecedented number of raids by its air force into Taiwan’s air defense zone.

Analysts said increased communication between senior US and Chinese officials could make progress in some aspects of the ties, such as allowing more journalists to return to each other’s countries and reopening closed consulates in Houston and Chengdu.

There has been talk of the G20 summit at the end of the month in Italy as a possible venue for a Biden-Xi face-to-face meeting.

“I think the hope is that it will lead to a Biden-Xi Jinping meeting, which may need to be virtual,” said Asia expert Bonnie Glaser of the US’s German Marshall Fund.

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