The signs of a thaw in the stormy relationship between the two superpowers are becoming clearer. The United States and China maintain clashes on multiple open fronts, from technological to commercial. Tensions will continue in what international analysts have long dubbed a new Cold War. But at least senior officials from both sides now regularly see each other in bilateral meetings that end with small gestures of rapprochement.
On the second weekend of September, during the G-20 summit in New Delhi, President Joe Biden held a meeting with the Chinese envoy, Prime Minister Li Qiang, who replaced the absent Xi Jinping. A few days later, during a stop that Biden made in Vietnam, the American reiterated a couple of times that his country does not seek to isolate China.
"I don't want to contain China. I just want to make sure that we have a relationship that improves. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure that we are talking about the same things," said Biden, who has acknowledged that he hopes to be able to meet with his counterpart Xi later this year, likely in San Francisco during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.
The bases for this long-awaited meeting - the last time Biden and Xi met was at the G-20 last year in Bali - were discussed this weekend on neutral ground (Malta) by the White House national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, and the head of diplomacy and Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi. "Both sides held frank, substantive and constructive conversations during multiple meetings," both the statements from Washington and Beijing agreed.
This meeting was the last of several that have been held by senior officials from both countries in recent months: Sullivan and Wang were already in Vienna in May, shortly before the Minister of Commerce, Wang Wentao, passed through Washington. Later in the Chinese capital was the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, and the climate envoy, John Kerry. The last to walk through Beijing in August was Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce.
Visits by US officials are multiplying to a capital recently shaken by economic and political uncertainty. Added to the real estate crisis and the slow recovery from the pandemic is the disappearance in public events of the Minister of Defense, Li Shangfu, accused of a corruption case according to Beijing officials. At the beginning of summer, the then Foreign Minister, Qin Gang, and also senior army commanders, already fell - without yet officially knowing why.
The waters are troubled in Beijing while it seems that China and the United States seek to reestablish regular communication after the Asian country broke all lines with Washington following the visit to Taiwan in August 2022 of the then president of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. The complex situation of the autonomous island continues to be one of the thorniest issues during the talks between Beijing and Washington.
At the meeting in Malta, Wang told Sullivan that "the Taiwan issue is the first insurmountable red line" in Sino-US relations. "The United States must implement its commitment not to support Taiwan independence," noted the Chinese reading of the talk.
Shortly after news of the meetings between Wang and Sullivan came to light, Taiwan's Defense Ministry reported that it had seen 103 Chinese military aircraft around the island on Sunday, many of them crossing the median line of the strait, which It was previously an unofficial maritime border that Chinese fighter jets used to respect until Pelosi's visit to Taipei.
"The continued military harassment by the communist army can easily lead to a sharp rise in tensions and worsen regional security. We call on the authorities in Beijing to take responsibility and immediately put an end to such destructive unilateral actions," it said on Monday. a statement from the Taiwanese ministry.
After the stop in Malta, Wang Yi headed to Russia for a four-day tour in which he will also discuss the bases of an upcoming meeting in Beijing between Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, probably in October.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry revealed that its top diplomat, who was already in Moscow in February on the eve of the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was going to meet with the secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, with the purpose of "holding talks on security", at a time when the Kremlin is seeking support for its war against Kiev. The head of Chinese diplomacy also met with his counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
Wang's trip to Moscow will coincide with a meeting in New York between Antony Blinken and Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, a figure with a more symbolic than executive role, who is normally limited to representing China in ceremonies abroad like the last one. Coronation of King Charles in London.
This meeting is being held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, where they had Wang in attendance in the expected absence of Xi Jinping, who has barely left Beijing this year other than to visit Putin in Moscow and participate in the BRICS emerging economies summit in South Africa.