An austere welcome on the tarmac of Beijing airport without a red carpet. An impassive handshake from China’s top foreign policy official. A seat watching the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, perched at the head of a long table.
To international audiences, the perspective of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken two day visit in Beijing barely raised an eyebrow. Foreign ministers are rarely, if ever, greeted with much fanfare at the airport. And an audience with only one head of state is a sign of great importance and respect.
But for nationalist-leaning audiences in China, especially on social media, the scenes tell a different story. For them, Mr. Blinken only arrived after months of pleading for an invitation. And during his visit, he learned to respect China’s interests and pleaded with Mr. Xi. Chinese social media users happily noted that Mr. Blinken had arrived on Father’s Day, implying – using internet parlance – that Mr. Xi was America’s daddy.
The nationalist commentary in China around Mr. Blinken’s visit underscored a point Mr. Xi made during his meeting with the top US diplomat on Monday: “Competition between major countries does not represent the trend of the times. “. Translation: Surrounding China with security partners and cutting off its access to advanced technologies is not healthy competition, but an invitation to conflict.
Mr. Xi’s rejection of the framing of US-China relations by the last two US presidents raises doubts about the ability of the two world superpowers to reach a strategic agreement in the years to come.
“They apparently don’t buy into that framework at all,” said Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
“This raises the question: is it then possible to stabilize relations?
It is unclear to what extent the state has played a role in promoting the triumphant narrative online, although Chinese censors generally have broad controls to sway public opinion. Even in China’s most staid state-controlled news outlets, which mainly carried summaries of government meetings, coverage of the visit underscored Beijing’s view that Mr. Blinken was going to reassure the Chinese government and listen to its concerns.
Portraying China as a strong and responsible power eager to reduce tensions with the belligerent United States could help mask the politically less palatable reasons Beijing wants to reconnect with Washington, analysts say. Chief among them is the need to stabilize the Chinese economy, which has been struggling to maintain a recovery after emerging from three years of punitive pandemic restrictions.
“The lens of Xi Jinping lecturing a subordinate U.S. secretary of state from the head of a conference table shows a domestic audience that China is a global power that not only demands, but receives, respect. other great powers,” Drew said. Thompson, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
He noted that Mr. Blinken’s two immediate predecessors – Mike Pompeo and Rex W. Tillerson – were seated next to Mr. Xi in armchairs when they met. (Mr. Xi met with Mr. Pompeo in Beijing in June 2018, but did not meet the US secretary when he came back in october.) Others pointed out that Bill Gates was asked to sit next to a smiling Mr. Xi in an ornate wooden chair last week.
US officials say Mr Blinken’s trip was necessary because maintaining regular high-level diplomacy between the world’s two rival superpowers – and its two biggest economies and militaries – is essential to avoiding open conflict. Not only are the two governments seeking stability in their relationship, but their allies and other nations as well. And diplomacy allows both parties to clearly express their views in private and public discussions.
“If you want to stand up for American human rights values and if you want to free Americans detained here or seek China’s help in the fentanyl crisis, you can’t do it on the sidelines,” he said. said R. Nicholas Burns, US Ambassador. in Beijing, said in an interview on Tuesday. “You need to talk to them and urge them like Secretary Blinken did when he visited here. You don’t give anything by talking.
“The Chinese received the secretary with great dignity,” added Mr. Burns, who was present at all of Mr. Blinken’s meetings. “President Xi Jinping was very courteous during the meeting.”
Chinese officials, eager to focus on trade as the anchor of U.S.-China relations, had pushed Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to go first , but US officials insisted Mr. Blinken should precede them. Now these two other US cabinet officials are expected to travel to Beijing this summer, as is climate envoy John Kerry.
Analysts say China hopes the talks can help boost business confidence as many traditional levers of China’s economic growth, such as real estate, face dramatic challenges.
In addition, China wants to stress to the Biden administration its opposition to the trade restrictions that choke chinese access to important technologies, such as advanced semiconductor chips.
“Xi’s main motivation for entertaining Americans is that the Chinese economy is in a very bad state,” said Willy Lam, China policy analyst and senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation, a research institute in Washington. “Exports are down noticeably and more and more American and Western companies are moving their production bases away from China.”
By hosting Mr. Blinken, China has also sought to set the stage for Mr. Xi to travel to the United States in November for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit – a trip that could lead to a face-to-face meeting. one-on-one with President Biden, the kind of visit would help restore Mr. Xi’s image as a global statesman.
Beijing may also be driven by a sense of urgency to pressure the Biden administration for more assurances that it will not inflame pro-independence sentiment in Taiwan, particularly ahead of presidential elections in the United States and Taiwan. Taiwan next year. In both places, politicians have stepped up rhetoric critical of the Chinese Communist Party during campaign years because they believe it helps win votes.
China is furious with the Biden administration’s growing support for the democratic, self-governing island – including a new trade deal, more arms sales and increased exchanges between officials. Blinken’s visit gave China the opportunity to signal that it has warned the United States not to provoke Beijing over what its leaders have called the “core of China’s fundamental interests.”
While Mr. Blinken’s visit may have helped end the freeze in high-level bilateral diplomacy, it has also underscored the fact that an important dialogue between the two nations remains compromised by China’s attitude to regard to Taiwan and the widening military and economic rivalry.
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last August, Beijing froze official interactions with Washington on military issues, climate change and narcotics. China has only agreed to resume talks on climate change. US officials traveled to the meetings in Beijing hoping to get China to reopen direct channels of military-to-military communication, including those between the US Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the head of the Indo-Pacific Command and their Chinese counterparts.
Chinese officials meeting with Mr. Blinken denied the request.
Olivia Wang contributed report.