WASHINGTON – Shortly before setting out for Beijing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday emphasized the importance of the U.S. and China establishing better lines of communication. He will be the highest-ranking member of the Biden administration to visit China.
The U.S. wants to make sure “that the competition we have with China doesn't veer into conflict” due to avoidable misunderstandings, Blinken told reporters in Washington.
Blinken, speaking alongside Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, said his China trip is the outgrowth of a meeting in Bali last year between Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden. The two agreed that China and the United States, the world's biggest two economies and increasingly top rivals for global influence, must maintain contacts and and take steps to avoid unintended conflicts.
Blinken's trip came within a day of happening in February but was delayed by the diplomatic and political tumult brought on by the discovery of what the U.S. says was a Chinese spy balloon flying across the United States.
Biden and Xi had made commitments to improve communications “precisely so that we can make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible to avoid possible misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Blinken said Friday. “The place you start is with communicating.”
U.S. allies and others are signaling that they want the two rivals to “responsibly manage this relationship and look for areas where our cooperation might produce results that benefit not only our own people but people around the world, including in the region,” he said.
Chinese officials have expressed suspicion of U.S. efforts to establish reliable, high-level crisis communications, saying the U.S. wants them so as to dodge repercussions for provocative actions.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, speaking to reporters at the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Friday, said he was confident that he and his Chinese counterpart would meet “at some point in time, but we're not there yet.”
China rejected his request for a meeting with Li Shangfu at a security forum in Singapore early this month. Although the two did shake hands, they did not have any substantive discussion.
Austin said it was important for the two countries to talk to each other so they can manage potential crises and make sure “things aren't allowed to unnecessarily spiral out of control.”
Blinken was to leave Washington late Friday for meetings with senior Chinese leaders on Sunday and Monday.
Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this story.