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Blinken China Visit: High-Stakes Diplomacy Amid Escalating Tensions

Blinken China Visit

Blinken visits China for the second time, What you need to know

WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Blinken is set to visit China for the second time to address key issues such as China’s support for Russia’s defense industry, tensions in the Taiwan Strait, and concerns about China’s behavior in the South China Sea. The visit comes amidst ongoing economic and trade confrontations between the two countries, as well as increased defense cooperation with Japan and the Philippines.

The US is also seeking to curb China’s purchase of Iranian oil and address the flow of fentanyl from China to the United States. Despite the deep-rooted differences between the US and China, the visit is part of ongoing diplomatic efforts to ease tensions and find common ground on areas of disagreement.

Key Concepts

  • US Secretary of State Blinken is set to visit China for the second time to ease tensions.
  • Analysts do not anticipate breakthroughs during Blinken’s visit to China.
  • Concerns have been raised about China’s support for Russia’s defense industry.
  • The US is concerned about China’s role in bolstering Russia’s military capabilities.
  • The US has added more Chinese entities to its sanctions list for allegedly violating export control regulations against Russia.
  • The US has expressed concern over China’s increasing exports of technology products to Russia.
  • The US is conducting joint military exercises with Japan and the Philippines in the South China Sea.
  • The US condemns China’s behavior in the South China Sea.
  • The Taiwan Strait remains a point of contention between China and the US.
  • The US emphasizes its commitment to maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
  • The US Defense Secretary held a phone call with the Chinese Defense Minister to discuss the Taiwan issue.
  • The conflict between Israel and Iran has escalated, with the US calling on China to help control regional tensions.
  • Secretary Blinken’s visit to China will address the purchase of Iranian oil and the flow of fentanyl.
  • Recent high-level exchanges between the US and China aim to improve communication and cooperation.
  • The US seeks cooperation from China to limit support for Russia and assist Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Blinken is expected to pay his second visit to China on April 24. Some analysts believe that Blinken’s visit will help ease tensions between the two countries, but no major breakthrough is expected.

The Blinken China visit comes amid a tit-for-tat confrontation between the United States and China in the economic and trade arena, as Washington strengthens defense cooperation with Japan and the Philippines and discloses China’s support for Russia’s defense industry.

What topics will Blinken mainly discuss during his visit to China?

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin announced on Monday (April 22) that, at the invitation of Wang Yi, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, will visit China from April 24 to 26. A senior U.S. State Department official said that Blinken plans to visit Beijing and Shanghai to hold talks with senior Chinese officials. Topics discussed include China’s support for Russia’s defense industry, the Taiwan Strait issue, China’s provocative behavior in South China, and the fentanyl question.

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China supports the Russian defense industry

Secretary of State Blinken said last Friday (April 19) after the G7 ministerial meeting that China is a major contributor to Russia’s military-industrial complex, providing Russia with elements and parts of weapons and equipment.

“We’ve seen China share machine tools, semiconductors, and other dual-use products that have helped Russia rebuild a defense industrial base that had been severely weakened by sanctions and export controls,” he said.

The above-mentioned senior US State Department official said: “We will express our intention to have China reduce this support.” He said that Washington is ready to take action if necessary against Chinese companies that “seriously endanger the security of Ukraine and Europe.”

A previous public intelligence assessment by the United States showed that China’s exports of machine tools, microelectronics, and other technology products to Russia have increased significantly, and Moscow has used these technologies and materials to produce missiles, tanks, aircraft, and other weapons for use in the war against Ukraine.

More than a week ago, the United States added 12 more Chinese entities to its sanctions list for allegedly violating U.S. export control regulations against Russia. When U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen visited China earlier this month, she also warned that any Chinese company that supports Russia’s war in Ukraine will face “serious consequences.”

President Biden also expressed concern about Beijing’s indirect support for Russia’s defense industry during a previous phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beijing has repeatedly said it will not provide arms or military assistance to Russia, but said “normal trade between China and Russia should not be disrupted or restricted.” When Xi Jinping met with visiting Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov earlier this month, he said that Beijing would continue to maintain close exchanges with Moscow.

South China Sea Issue

Blinken’s visit to China coincides with the largest-ever “shoulder-to-shoulder” joint military exercise held by the United States and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The military exercise includes simulated recapture of islands occupied by the enemy.

Two weeks ago, the United States held its first trilateral summit with Japan and the Philippines in Washington. Leaders of the three countries condemned China’s “dangerous and destabilizing” behavior in the South China Sea.

At the summit, President Biden expressed his commitment to deepening maritime and security relations with Japan and the Philippines and warned Beijing that Washington would respond if China launched an attack on the Philippines.

China and the Philippines have recently had multiple maritime confrontations near the Second Thomas Shoal (called Second Thomas Shoal in China). The Philippines accuses Chinese coast guard ships and other maritime militia vessels of “obstructing,” “surrounding,” and even attacking its ships with water cannons. China claims it has so-called “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea and accuses the Philippines of “provoking trouble.”

Taiwan Strait Issue

Blinken’s visit to China also comes at a time when Taiwan’s President-elect, Lai Ching-te, will be officially sworn in in May. Beijing regards Lai as a “stubborn Taiwanese independence activist”. Since his election, the situation in the Taiwan Strait has been on the rise.

“The Secretary of State can be expected to emphasize both privately and publicly the United States’ enduring interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” a senior State Department official said.

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Last Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held his first phone call with Chinese Defense Minister Dong Jun since November 2022.

Dong Jun said that the Taiwan issue is “the core of China’s core interests” and cannot be damaged. Austin reiterated that the United States’ one-China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China joint communiqués, and the Six Assurances, has not changed, and emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

The joint statement by the leaders of the United States and Japan and the joint vision statement by the leaders of the United States, Japan, and the Philippines also emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

Last Wednesday, a P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine patrol aircraft of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet flew across the Taiwan Strait. The Seventh Fleet stated that this mission demonstrates its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. “The U.S. military will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” China condemned it and said it organized fighter planes to monitor and maintain a high level of alertness at all times.

Middle East Issues

Secretary Blinken is also expected to discuss the situation in the Middle East with Chinese officials.

Israel reportedly launched an attack on Iranian territory last Friday (April 19) in response to Iran launching drones and missiles at Israel on April 13. Tehran’s drone and missile strikes were in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on the Iranian embassy in Syria on April 1.

The conflict between Israel and Iran is part of rising tensions in the Middle East since the war in Gaza began last year.

Since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, the United States has repeatedly called on China to use its influence over Tehran to control regional tensions. Blinken had a phone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier this month to discuss the Israeli-Iraqi conflict.

Beijing had previously condemned Israel’s attack on the Iranian embassy but stopped short of blaming Iran. Instead, it praised Iran’s “restraint” and repeated Iran’s claim that the attack on Israel was an “act of self-defense.” Beijing has consistently expressed seemingly neutral concerns, saying it opposes any action that would escalate the situation.

Some analysts believe that the issue of China’s purchase of Iranian oil may also be one of the main topics covered by Blinken’s visit.

China is the largest buyer of sanctioned Iranian oil, and its crude oil imports from Iran account for about 10% of its total oil imports. Earlier this week, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill aimed at banning China from purchasing Iranian oil, requiring the imposition of sanctions on Chinese financial institutions that provide settlement for the China-Iran oil trade.

Some analysts interviewed by the media believe that Washington may take certain actions to crack down on Iranian oil exports to moderate Israel’s response to Iranian attacks and prevent the escalation of conflicts in the Middle East.

Fentanyl Problem

According to the media, Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Todd Robinson will also visit China with Secretary Blinken. They are expected to discuss how to curb the flow of fentanyl from China to the United States.

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The United States and China established a bilateral anti-drug working group in January this year. However, a report by the U.S. House of Representatives last week stated that the Chinese government subsidizes the production and export of illegal fentanyl precursor raw materials, exacerbating the fentanyl crisis in the United States.

China says it is cracking down on fentanyl and precursor chemicals and says the U.S. fentanyl crisis is a demand issue, not a supply issue.

What is the purpose of Blinken’s visit?

Since the phone call between U.S. President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 2, senior officials from the two countries have immediately conducted a number of exchanges, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Yellen, State Department Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink, the visit to China by Sarah Beran, senior director for China and Taiwan affairs at the National Security Council, and the phone call between the defense ministers of the two countries.

Secretary Blinken’s trip to China will be a continuation of some recent high-level contacts between the United States and China.

U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesperson Patel said at a regular press conference last week (April 18): “It is important to remember that we are talking about a follow-up visit, a historic visit to San Francisco or Woodside. Diplomatic action following the summit. You’ve seen a series of steps taken to coordinate between our two countries, particularly military-to-military communications and steps to deal with the fentanyl crisis. So, I have no doubt that there are any next steps. Possible visits—these are things that we will continue to urge and raise directly with the People’s Republic of China.”

Timothy Heath, a senior researcher on international defense issues at the Rand Corporation, an American think tank, believes that the main purpose of Blinken’s visit to China is to prevent China from increasing its military support for Russia.

“Russia is making important advances on the battlefield while the United States is mired in politics over its aid bill to Ukraine,” he told the media in an email. “Limiting China’s support could help slow down Russia’s military progress, and perhaps it can buy time for the U.S. government to provide assistance to Ukraine.”

He believes that the U.S. government is also likely to seek Beijing’s cooperation to avoid escalation in the Middle East.

Is it difficult to make a major breakthrough?

This will be Blinken’s second visit to China since becoming Secretary of State. During his first visit to China in June last year, he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Beijing welcomed Blinken’s visit. But a senior State Department official said the United States was “realistic and clear-headed about the prospect of a breakthrough” on any issue on the agenda.

Timothy Heath believes that it is difficult for Blinken to make a major breakthrough during this trip “because the two sides hold deep-rooted opposing views on key issues such as Russia, Iran, and Taiwan.”

But he said high-level talks were continuing, which “helped ease tensions.”

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