HomeWorld NewsChina’s foreign minister is in Washington. That counts as progress.

China’s foreign minister is in Washington. That counts as progress.

When China’s top diplomat Wang Yi arrives in Washington on Thursday, he and his U.S. counterparts are unlikely to agree on much beyond the need to stabilize fraught ties between the world’s two most powerful countries.

But in the current climate, 90 percent of success is showing up.

The mere fact that China’s top diplomat is visiting D.C. for meetings with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan — and potentially President Biden — is a marker of progress since the countries started exploring a thaw in ties over the summer. It is expected to pave the way for a meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November.

It’s the remaining 10 percent that will prove difficult.

Wang is likely to come with an agenda markedly different from Washington’s, one that is aimed at convincing Washington to loosen restrictions on technology exports to China and to roll back the support for Taiwan that Beijing sees as a violation of previous U.S.-China agreements.

“We want to know that the United States values Sino-U. S. relations as much as China does,” said Qiu Huafei, professor of international relations at Tongji University in Shanghai who studies China-U.S. relations. “It cannot be just competition without cooperation.”

China’s top diplomat to visit D.C. amid tensions over South China Sea, Israel

Under the Biden administration, the two countries have clashed over U.S. controls on exports that could be used by China to develop weapons — restrictions that Beijing sees as an attempt to suppress its development; China’s threats to take Taiwan by force; as well as Xi’s growing friendship and support of Russian President Vladimir Putin throughout the Ukraine war.

Wang is likely to push for the United States to ease back on restrictions on advanced semiconductors aimed at stopping China from using the chips in military applications.

“On Beijing’s side, I think the priority has more to do with the relaxation of U.S. export controls over technology,” said Nadège Rolland, a scholar at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

Washington, for its part, appears focused on getting Beijing on side in the Israel-Gaza war and efforts to pressure Iran to hold back from intervening in the conflict.

Blinken said on Tuesday at the U.N. Security Council that he would work with Wang on his visit to Washington to prevent the Israel-Gaza conflict from spreading in the region. Iran has become increasingly reliant on China, its largest trading partner.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if Washington wanted to talk about the situation in the Middle East and maybe ask Beijing to use its good relationship with Tehran to keep the tensions contained,” said Rolland.

Chinese commentators, noting Blinken’s remarks and U.S. efforts to push China to take on a bigger role in the Middle East crisis, say this is not the point of the meeting.

Where China stands on the Israel-Gaza war and what it stands to gain

“During Wang Yi’s visit to the United States, the two sides are expected to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli issue, but it is not the core issue. Sino-U. S. relations have too many issues that need to be resolved,” Sun Xingjie, a professor at the School of International Relations at Sun Yat-sen University, told the state-run Hong Kong China News Agency.

Experts say it is unlikely that Beijing will use its influence in Iran. China’s role has so far been limited to calling for a cease-fire, reiterating its support for a two-state solution and faulting the United States for providing arms to Israel. While expressing sympathy for the people of Gaza and the Palestinian cause, China has not condemned Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel and has avoiding referring to the group.

“Both countries have an interest in regional stability,” said Moritz Rudolf, a research scholar at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. “But China cannot project any military power in the region and it has no interest in doing so. It is a vocal bystander criticizing the West and calling for peace.”

As the United States approaches election season, Chinese scholars see the meeting as a key opportunity to at least stabilize ties before a potentially more hawkish administration takes office.

“With the U.S. election next year, resistance to improving Sino-U. S. relations will become stronger. There will be few opportunities to improve Sino-U. S. relations next year, so things must be done this year,” said Zhao Minghao, professor at Fudan University’s Center for American Studies.

Chinese state media have struck a conciliatory tone ahead of Wang’s trip, with the usually hawkish state-run Global Times calling the visit a “stabilizing sign.” Xi on Wednesday sent a letter to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations saying that his country is willing to “properly manage differences and work together” with the United States.

Wang’s visit signals at least the resumption of more frequent high-level diplomatic and working-group exchanges between the two sides, most of which were frozen after incidents like then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan and the discovery of a Chinese high-altitude balloon floating over the United States in February.

Military-to-military engagement, also on hold, between the two sides could resume. This week, Xi signed an executive order removing Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who vanished from public view nearly two months ago, from his ministerial position. Beijing has cited U.S. sanctions on Li, in place since 2018, as a key obstacle to resuming defense exchanges and meetings with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Intentionally or not, removing him would pave the way for Li’s successor to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin,” the Eurasia Group wrote in a research note. U.S. officials are expected to attend a defense forum in China in next week.

Chinese balloon part of vast aerial surveillance program, U.S. says

Since Blinken’s visit in June, a string of American officials have visited China in an effort to repair ties, including Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao traveled to Detroit and Washington in May. Xi has not visited the United States since 2017.

Then-Foreign Minister Qin Gang agreed to visit Washington upon meeting Blinken in June but later disappeared from view before being removed from his post.

Sending Wang, currently the most senior Chinese official on foreign policy and an experienced diplomat who has dealt with the U.S. government for years, is one sign Beijing is eager to make progress.

“Wang is here to pave the ground for Xi’s San Francisco visit. That’s the core focus of the trip. It means issues will be negotiated, solutions will be discussed and details will be deliberated and inked,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center.

“His trip means that Xi is coming. Xi’s coming means a meeting with Biden. A Xi-Biden meeting means efforts to stabilize bilateral ties,” she said.

Lyric Li in Seoul and Theodora Yu in Hong Kong contributed additional reporting.

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