Meetings between senior US and Chinese officials in China this week struck an upbeat chord, with both sides agreeing to maintain communication lines, even as Beijing remains leery of more “provocative” US moves and open clashes are still a risk.
Statements from Washington and Beijing on meetings between Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Chinese officials including Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu were positive, describing the talks as candid and productive.
Just before Kritenbrink arrived in Beijing on Sunday, the US navy reported an “unsafe interaction” on Saturday when a Chinese warship crossed in front of a US destroyer in the sensitive Taiwan Strait, raising the prospect of future face-offs that could spiral out of control.
Kritenbrink’s visit also followed China’s apparent snub last week of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who had sought a formal meeting with his Chinese counterpart but was bluntly rejected.
“The two sides conducted candid, constructive and fruitful communication on promoting the improvement of Sino-US relations and properly managing and controlling differences,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday of Kritenbrink’s meetings.
Both sides also agreed to continue to communicate, according to the statement.
“The two sides had candid and productive discussions as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and build on recent high-level diplomacy between the two countries,” the US State Department said late Monday.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has pushed to boost engagement with China as ties between the world’s two largest economies have deteriorated over issues ranging from democratically governed Taiwan, which China claims as its own, to military activity in the South China Sea.
But critics have questioned US overtures to China, arguing that past decades of engagement have failed to change Beijing’s behavior.
The recent interactions between China and the United States showed both sides are trying to manage disputes, but the risk of clashes will still rise if Washington does not cease its provocations and if it does not show sincerity in improving relations, state-backed Chinese newspaper Global Times reported late Monday.
China and US ties have entered a “more complicated” phase - while China is willing to stabilise relations and is open to possible cooperation, it will also firmly fight back against the US provocations, wrote Global Times, known for its nationalist leanings.
“We’re working hard to manage the relationship as best as we possibly can,” said Kritenbrink, when asked by reporters in Beijing on Tuesday about the current state of bilateral ties.
The already frayed ties took a sharp turn south in February as Secretary of State Antony Blinken scrapped a trip to China after what Washington described as a Chinese spy balloon flew through US airspace.
Asked if Blinken would visit China soon, Kritenbrink said: “We’ll see, I have nothing to announce.”
On the odds of a meeting between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Summit in San Francisco in November, he said, “I couldn’t possibly say.”