The decade's most triggering comedy
One of the highest level meetings between the U.S. and China in years was hailed by American officials as “direct and productive” and “candid” after months of escalating tensions between the two powers.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing on Sunday for talks with his counterpart, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, after a previously scheduled meeting in February was canceled. The meeting marked the first time a cabinet level official had visited China since 2019, before the start of the COVID pandemic.
According to CBS, the meeting on Sunday lasted for five and a half hours and was followed by a two hour working dinner. U.S. officials hoped to use the talks to reestablish senior level communications, “express candid views” and explore “areas of potential cooperation.”
“We’ve made progress on all three of those goals … we covered almost the entire waterfront of the relationship,” they said.
Earlier talks in February were canceled after the incursion of a Chinese spy balloon into U.S. airspace – said balloon crossed the continental United States and passed over several military installations before finally being downed off the coast of South Carolina on February 4. That provocation, combined with years of trade wars, increased tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwanese strait, and an increasing body of evidence that suggests the COVID-19 pandemic began in a Chinese government lab have all contributed to Sino-American relations being “at the lowest point” they’ve ever been, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
According to a statement from the State Department, during the meeting Blinken “emphasized the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation.”
The exact details of the talks are not known, but it was widely expected that the two diplomats would discuss the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the export of Chinese fentanyl into the US, and trade disputes, amongst other things.
For their part, Foreign Minister Gang said that Taiwan was the “most prominent risk” for U.S.-China relations, and he also described the island as one of “China’s core interests.”
The People’s Republic of China claims Taiwan as an integral part of its territory but the island has been effectively independent since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949. Since then, the island has established itself as an economic and technological powerhouse, and it is currently the world’s premier manufacturing center for advanced semiconductors, which are crucial components in both civilian and military hardware. Taiwan currently produces about 60% of the world’s semiconductor chips and roughly 90% of cutting edge chips.
The US has attempted to reduce its dependence on Taiwanese chips by promoting domestic semiconductor production, but for the foreseeable future Taiwan remains a vital supply of a resource used in all advanced computers.
Furthermore, the U.S. has maintained a strong de facto alliance with Taiwan dating back to before the end of the Second World War – back when its government controlled all of China under Chiang Kai Shek. The U.S. recognized the nationalist government in Taiwan as the legitimate government of all of China until 1979, when the U.S. and Communist China established diplomatic relations. Since then, the U.S. has retained a policy of “strategic ambiguity” the question of Taiwan, theoretically acknowledging it as a territory of China while informally recognizing its independence, sending Taiwan military hardware and heavily suggesting, although never confirming, that it will intervene militarily if China ever attempted to invade the island.
China has been increasingly aggressive with both naval and aerial incursions into Taiwanese territory in recent months, and some observers, such as former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, “may portray a bit of weakness,” in the face of Chinese aggression.
However, China has refused to respond to U.S. overtures for months, and potentially has its own reasons to come to the negotiating table. The Chinese economy is deteriorating: youth unemployment has reached historically high levels, the Chinese housing market is increasingly unstable, and the country has yet to fully recover from its draconian COVID-19 lockdowns. Furthermore, its aging and shrinking population pose long term structural economic problems. Stabilizing trade with America and its allies could buttress the economic growth which has long been a source of stability and political legitimacy for the ruling regime.
Talks will continue Monday and Blinken has expressed hopes that he will be able to personally meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the coming months.