Blinken Meets Chinese Vice President on Sidelines of UN Assembly in New York

(Bloomberg) -- China’s Vice President Han Zheng told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that both sides need to meet each other halfway in a meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly on Monday.

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“China-US relations face a lot of difficulties and challenges,” Han, the No. 2 official in the Chinese government, told Blinken as the two men sat across from each other at long tables in a conference room at China’s UN mission. “It needs us both to display more sincerity, more efforts, and meet each other halfway.”

Monday’s was the latest in a series of meetings between senior officials from both sides in recent months ahead of a potential visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to San Francisco for an economic summit in November.

“It’s a good thing that we have this opportunity to build on the recent high level engagements that our countries have had, to make sure that we’re maintaining open communications, and demonstrate that we are responsibly managing the relationship between our two countries,” Blinken told Han.

The meeting in New York comes at a sensitive time in US-China relations, with geopolitical tensions persisting over issues from the future of Taiwan to trade, human rights and the global impact of China’s economic slowdown.

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Adding to uncertainty about China’s direction, Xi has recently made abrupt changes to his cabinet-level officials. That includes the surprise ousting of the country’s foreign minister, Qin Gang, after just seven months in his new job. That was followed by the disappearance of Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who US officials believe has also been removed from his post.

Han, who told Blinken he hoped the US would follow through with “pragmatic measures to pursue the healthy and stable development of US-China relations,” was a surprise replacement at the UN meetings for China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who has been a familiar face at the top of China’s foreign policy system for years and met with Blinken on the sidelines of last year’s UN General Assembly. Over the weekend, Wang met with President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for talks in Malta that centered on Xi’s potential attendance at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

The Biden administration has attempted to calm tensions by sending numerous cabinet officials to Beijing recently, including Blinken in June and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in late August.

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“The world expects us to responsibly manage our relationship. The United States is committed to doing just that,” Blinken told the Chinese delegation on Monday before the two sides began talks.

While US officials say that keeping channels of communication open is important, these visits have achieved little in terms of concrete diplomatic or geopolitical gains. In early September, shortly after Raimondo’s visit, China’s top spy agency – in a relatively rare interjection into foreign policy – said the Biden administration’s strategy toward Beijing was “doomed to fail.”

--With assistance from Jacob Gu and Lin Cheng.

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