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Biden has promised a thaw, but the US and China are struggling to break the ice

The disruptions come just ahead of a scheduled meeting between Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao in Washington on Thursday. Wang is also expected to speak with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of a gathering of trade officials in Detroit, though that meeting has yet to be confirmed.

“We still want to have these conversations,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “We are still in discussion with the PRC on how to move forward, but I just don’t have an update for you.”

The uncertainty ahead of the meetings underscores the difficulty of repairing US-China relations, which have hit their lowest point in decades after a series of economic and security flare-ups. The Biden administration’s more conciliatory rhetoric in recent months — emphasizing that it is not aimed at curbing Beijing’s growth or “decoupling” the two economies — has done little to quell the simmering mistrust in the two capitals. And domestic political pressure continues to rattle the sabers on both sides. The lack of high-level dialogue can only fuel conflict.

These tensions were exposed for all to see last week when the Chinese Embassy announced that Wang would visit the United States and meet with senior US trade officials this week. Less than two hours after this statement, Tai announced that the United States had completed the first phase of a trade agreement with Taiwanwhich China considers a breakaway province.

Beijing was furious. China has accused Washington of violating the long-standing one-China policy in which the United States does not maintain formal diplomatic relations with the self-governing island.

A Chinese official not authorized to speak to the press appeared to backtrack on the announcement of the meetings shortly after the Taiwan deal was announced, saying “the two sides are still discussing details at the working level.”

Meetings with Raimondo and Tai would open the door for the United States and China to deal with growing frustrations over bilateral trade. China is eager to shake off U.S. tariffs and export controls it sees as unwarranted and protectionist, while the U.S. argues Beijing continues to engage in forced labor, economic coercion and abuse. other practices that distort the market in its favor. China has also failed to meet its purchase commitments under a Trump-era trade deal, but attempts by the Biden administration to enforce those terms have stalled.

The expected meetings could also build on the initial opening created by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s two-day conference with China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, in Vienna earlier this month, which the two sides agreed. described as “frank, substantial and constructive”. The meeting marked the most high-profile meeting between US and Chinese officials since Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met with former Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in Zurich in January.

President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in person for the first time since Biden became president in Bali, Indonesia in November on the sidelines of a G-20 summit. However, soaring bilateral tensions over issues such as trade, Taiwan and the Chinese spy balloon incident in February have effectively frozen high-level diplomatic contacts over the past six months. The next likely opportunity for a Biden-Xi meeting would be in San Francisco in November at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit.

The Biden administration also sought to postpone Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s trip to China, which Washington canceled following the spy balloon incident. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s meeting with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in California in April added to Beijing’s list of grievances with the Biden administration and made Chinese authorities reluctant to renew high-level bilateral contacts. , putting Blinken’s trip to Beijing in limbo.

The bilateral cold also froze bilateral military communications. Beijing suspended high-level military contacts as part of a retaliation package for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August. And Beijing is slow to agree to a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu at the Shangri-La Dialogue’s annual security conference in Singapore next week.

Li, who became China’s defense minister in March, has been under U.S. government sanctions since 2018 for his role in buying Russian weapons and has not responded to Austin’s previous outreach efforts. Chinese officials said Li’s sanctioned status stood in the way of such a meeting. The State Department said Monday it would not move to lift those Li sanctions to secure the meeting, casting the meeting in doubt.

Despite the American desire to relaunch the dialogue, Washington has not hesitated to blame China for its own actions. Kirby on Wednesday strongly condemned a decision by China to ban the use of memory chips made by Boise, Idaho-based Micron in key infrastructure projects due to national security concerns.

“This PRC announcement about Micron is simply baseless. No basis in fact,” Kirby said, adding that the administration was engaging directly with Beijing to detail its position and seek clarification on China’s decision.

At the same time, Kirby said it was a clear effort by China to push back against the united stance taken by G-7 leaders against Chinese economic coercion at their recent summit in Hiroshima, Japan. .

“I mean, it came just a day after the G-7 leaders released their first-ever statement on economic resilience and security,” Kirby said. “So how do they respond to criticism of economic coercion? With economic coercion.

But the Micron episode shouldn’t stand in the way of more dialogue between the two countries, Kirby said, expanding on Biden’s comment about the potential for a “thaw” in relations.

“We don’t think that should be the case,” Kirby said. “The discussions and the lines of communication that we try to keep open remain open. And again, there have been some promising indicators there.

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