by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Secretary of State Antony Blinken just spent two days in Beijing, meeting Xi Jinping’s underlings before securing an audience with the Chinese leader himself. The picture released from that final discussion showed Xi seated at the head of a table, with Blinken humiliatingly placed just to his side.
That Blinken went to China is not a problem. Indeed, there’s always an important role for high-level diplomatic contact, even with such an adversary as the Chinese Communist Party. The State Department, however, has reverted to persistent, old U.S. habits prioritizing engagement with China for its own sake and at the expense of America’s interests.
The stated goal of the trip was to stabilize high-level communication between Washington and Beijing, amid the rapid deterioration of the diplomatic relationship this year. At least in that sense, Blinken met the low expectations that Foggy Bottom had set for the trip.
He and the Chinese officials agreed to forge ahead on some relatively marginal issues: resuming more flights between the U.S. and China, restoring educational and cultural exchanges, and seeking other areas of potential cooperation. The biggest item that Blinken seems to have secured is a commitment to “explore” the establishment of a U.S.-China “working group” on preventing the export of fentanyl precursor chemicals from China.
But the main breakthrough that many hoped would result from the trip — the resumption of military-to-military dialogue — is still being withheld by the Chinese side, Blinken revealed at a press conference Monday. That Xi is still refusing to instruct Chinese military officials to engage in risk-mitigation talks with their American counterparts, after several recent near-collisions in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait provoked by reckless PLA naval and aerial maneuvering, underlines his intentions. To Blinken’s credit, his attempt to get cooperation here demonstrates to other countries that Beijing is putting up roadblocks to responsible military communications in the region.