Relations between Washington and Beijing are very strained. The affair about alleged Chinese espionage in the United States put additional strain on the relationship. Now both sides are talking again.
In the midst of great tensions between the USA and China, high-ranking representatives of both governments have met again after a long radio silence. The White House announced on Thursday that US President Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, had met the top Chinese foreign policy maker, Wang Yi, in Vienna. The two met on Wednesday and Thursday in the Austrian capital and had “open, factual and constructive discussions”. The US side said it was ready to put the recent affair about allegations of espionage against Beijing behind it.
points of contention
Relations between the US and China are generally strained over a whole list of issues. Biden’s government sees China as the greatest geopolitical challenge and is taking a tough stance on Beijing. At the beginning of February, a dispute over alleged Chinese spying operations had further strained the relationship.
According to the White House, the talks in Vienna included bilateral relations, global and regional security issues and Russia’s war against Ukraine. It is part of ongoing efforts to maintain open channels of communication and to compete responsibly. Both sides agreed to maintain this important strategic communication channel.
A senior US official said the two sat together for more than eight hours over the two days. It was the first meeting in this format after Sullivan and China’s then-top foreign policy chief, Yang Jiechi, spoke in Luxembourg in June 2022.
Sullivan once again made it clear that both countries are in competition with each other, but the US does not want conflict and is willing to work with China on certain bilateral and global issues. “We will not change each other’s opinions,” said the US government official. But it is part of diplomacy to explain your point of view.
Affair about suspected Chinese espionage
The allegations of espionage against Beijing had recently alienated both countries further: the US military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the American coast. The United States accused China of using it to spy on military facilities. Beijing, on the other hand, spoke of a civilian research balloon that had gone off course and complained that the Americans had completely overreacted. The US spoke of a major international espionage program by China, which Beijing also rejected.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled an upcoming visit to China at the last minute because of the affair. Blinken met Wang Yi later in February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. However, the meeting did not provide any real relaxation – and concrete plans to catch up on Blinken’s trip to Beijing are not yet known. Blinken always emphasizes that he wants to travel to China as soon as the circumstances are right.
In the past few months, however, there had been little exchange between the two sides. Biden defended the launch of the balloon and at the same time tried to de-escalate it. However, China reacted coolly to offers of talks from Washington.
Regarding the latest spy spat, the US government representative said both sides had acknowledged that the “regrettable incident” had led to a pause in mutual exchanges. Sullivan made the US position clear again. But we are ready to “look ahead” now and focus on how both sides can tackle other ongoing issues and find a productive way to work together.
With a view to a possible Blinken visit to Beijing, she said that the conversation in Vienna was not about specific appointments. However, she assumes that there will be commitments in both directions in the coming months. Regarding the prospects for a possible phone call between Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, she said that there was nothing to be announced about this either.
The first high-level meeting between the US and China in a long time also coincides with preparations by the Americans and their partners for the upcoming G7 summit in Japan. The heads of state and government of the seven major economic powers will meet in Hiroshima next week. China is not part of the group, but is likely to play a significant role in the talks there.
Without China being explicitly named, many of the topics at the summit relate indirectly to the politically and economically powerful country. Beijing made a front against the G7 in advance: Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing on Thursday that the G7 were talking about international order, but meant Western norms. It’s the rules of “a small clique that put the United States first.”
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.