US Secretary of State Blinken meets China's President Xi

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other senior officials in Beijing. The two-day visit, which began on Sunday, is the first to the country by one of President Joe Biden's Cabinet.

It comes after a planned meeting in February was canceled amid allegations of China deploying spy balloons in the United States.

Blinken met with Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Sunday for over seven hours and top diplomat Wang Yi for three more on Monday.

Chinese FM and US Secretary of State

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang met in Beijing on Sunday.

The meeting was described as constructive by both sides, but some issues apparently led to heated debate.

Without giving details, a senior State Department official told reporters there was a large gap between the two countries.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said Qin pointed out that the Taiwan issue is at "the core of China's core interests," calling it "the most prominent risk" to China-US relations.

Qin accepted an invitation from Blinken to travel to Washington at a mutually suitable time to continue their discussions.

Rocky road to Beijing talks

Ties between the US and China have been particularly strained since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan last August.

February's subsequent spy-balloon affair left the prospect of high-level talks uncertain. However, dialogue between the two countries continued sporadically on several fronts.

A suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the US.

About two weeks after Blinken announced the postponement of his visit to China, he met with Wang Yi on the sidelines of an international conference in Germany.

Then in May, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also met Wang in Vienna, Austria.

And at the same month's Hiroshima G7 Summit, Joe Biden expressed his desire for a thaw in relations with China.

Joe Biden in Hiroshima on May 21, 2023.

That led to Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink meeting vice foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu in Beijing to lay the groundwork for Blinken's visit.

Finally, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shanfu shook hands at the Shangri-La Security Dialogue in June after Li had rejected bilateral talks.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shanfu met in Singapore on June 2 but did not hold talks.

Analysis: Accompanying Blinken's trip

NHK reporter Watanabe Kosuke, who's covering the trip, says Blinken looked serious and didn't smile at a photo shoot before the meeting.

Watanabe says Blinken will face the difficult task of avoiding what may be termed "weak-kneed" diplomacy from the Biden administration, especially by the Republican Party at home.

By sending Blinken, rather than a lower-ranking Cabinet member, the Biden administration is clearly showing its stand on key issues, including human rights in China.

Watanabe says Blinken's visit to Beijing will not dramatically change the cool bilateral relations, but there is no doubt that it is in the interest of both sides to prevent accidental events between the US and China from developing into unintended clashes.

He says the key to achieving that goal is in how much the US and China can compromise in the rest of the talks, as the two countries are fiercely at odds over human rights in China and Taiwan.

Watanabe Kosuke is an NHK correspondent based in Washington.

Unpicking China's intentions

The Chinese minister, for his part, took a somewhat different approach. NHK's Beijing-based Fujita Masahiro says Qin smiled as he shook hands with Blinken.

Fujita says the meeting took place behind closed doors to avoid China appearing overly assertive on camera and to not give the impression that the two countries remain apart. Beijing's stance has been to not yield any ground to the US over Taiwan.

At the meeting, Qin expressed his recognition that the current state of bilateral relations is the worst since the establishment of diplomatic relations.

However, the sluggish economic situation is one reason why China genuinely wants to improve relations with the US. In that sense, it likely sees Blinken's visit as an opportunity.

The Chinese side seems to be using Sunday's meeting with Qin and Monday morning's meeting with Wang to ascertain the true intentions of the US toward improving relations.

Fujita Masahiro is a NHK correspondent based in Beijing.

Biden on Blinken's visit

Asked by reporters on Saturday whether he thinks Blinken's visit will ease tensions between the US and China, Biden said he does.

He added that he hopes to meet with President Xi in the coming months to discuss differences in the positions of the two sides and areas where they can cooperate.

On the balloon issue, Biden said the US shooting down the balloon was not a big problem. He said he thinks the Chinese leadership did not know its location, so it was more embarrassing than intentional.