Cindy Yu Cindy Yu

Why Xi Jinping finally agreed to meet Antony Blinken

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shakes hands with China's president Xi Jinping (Credit: Getty images)

When Antony Blinken got on the plane to Beijing two days ago, the US Secretary of State didn’t even know if he’d be meeting with Xi Jinping. Blinken’s visit was originally planned for February before the US withdrew, at the last minute, after a Chinese spy balloon was spotted over Montana. Beijing has always insisted there was nothing untoward about the balloon, seeing the cancellation of Blinken’s visit as an overreaction. US-China relations have been frosty since.

Despite this tension, the Secretary of State was granted an audience with the Chinese leader earlier today – but only with a few hours’ notice. The short meeting, which lasted only 30 minutes, is a sign that Beijing, like Washington, wants to arrest the downward spiral of US-China relations since the balloon incident. It’s possible that Xi only decided to meet Blinken after the US Secretary of State had productive conversations with other senior Chinese officials, earlier in the visit. From the readouts, those fearing a third world war can let out a small sigh of relief. Blinken says he and Xi had ‘robust conversation’, including about the war in Ukraine, but that he also sought to ‘disabuse’ China of the idea that the US is ‘seeking to economically contain them’. President Xi said: ‘China respects US interests and will not challenge or replace the US’.

Those fearing a third world war can let out a small sigh of relief

Blinken had first met with Qin Gang, China’s foreign minister, and the summaries of that meeting from both sides spoke of a ‘candid’ and ‘constructive’ conversation. He then met with Wang Yi, China’s highest-ranking diplomat (more senior than Qin). Wang emphasised the need to ‘avoid strategic accidents’ and ‘urged the US side… not to misjudge China based on the trajectory followed by traditional Western powers’ – in other words, not to project the West’s own expansionist rise to global power on to China’s rise (curiously, there is no readout from the US side of this second meeting).

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