U.S., Chinese foreign ministers hold first in person talks since October

Stefani Reynolds / Pool via REUTERS
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, on Saturday. 

NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met on Saturday for the first in-person talks since October after attending a G20 summit where the top U.S. diplomat led efforts to pressure Russia over its war in Ukraine.

U.S. officials say Blinken’s meeting with Wang in Bali, Indonesia, including a morning session of talks and a working lunch, is aimed at keeping the difficult U.S. relationship with China stable and preventing it from veering inadvertently into conflict.

“There is no substitute for face to face … diplomacy, and in a relationship as complex and consequential as the one between the United States and China there is a lot to talk about,” Blinken told reporters at the beginning of the meeting.

“We very much look forward to a productive and constructive conversation,” he said.

Blinken is expected to repeat warnings to China not to support Russia’s war in Ukraine and the two sides will address contentious issues that include Taiwan, China’s extensive South China Sea claims, its expansion of influence in the Pacific, human rights, and trade tariffs.

However, both sides share an interest in keeping the relationship stable and Blinken and U.S. officials say President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to speak again in coming weeks, something Saturday’s meeting is likely to address.

“China and the United States are two major countries, so it is necessary for the two countries to maintain normal exchanges,” Wang told reporters.

“At the same time, we do need to talk together to ensure that this relationship will continue to move forward along the right track,” Wang said.

Daniel Russel, a top U.S. diplomat for East Asia under former President Barack Obama who has close contact with Biden administration officials, said he believed a key aim for the meeting would be to explore the possibility of an in-person meeting between Biden and Xi, their first as leaders, possibly on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Bali in November.

The United States calls China its main strategic rival and is concerned it might one day attempt to take over the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan, just as Russia attacked Ukraine.

The top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Kritenbrink, said on Tuesday he expected a “candid” exchange with Wang and said it would be another opportunity “to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine.”

Shortly before Russia’s Feb. 24 Ukraine invasion, Beijing and Moscow announced a “no limits” partnership. But U.S. officials have said they have not seen China evade tough U.S.-led sanctions on Russia or provide it with military equipment.

However, China has declined to condemn Russia’s actions and it has criticized the sweeping sanctions.

U.S. officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China start offering material support for Russia’s war effort, which it calls a “special military operation” to degrade the Ukrainian military though Kyiv counters that it is an imperial-style land grab.

Despite their strategic rivalry, the world’s two largest economies remain major trading partners and Biden has been considering scrapping tariffs on a range of Chinese goods to curb surging U.S. inflation before the November midterm elections, with control of Congress in focus.