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Biden, Xi Set for Spring Call; Blinken to Visit Beijing

FILE — Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden walk together at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' week, Nov. 15, 2023. The two are scheduled to have a phone call in the spring.
FILE — Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden walk together at the Filoli Estate in Woodside, California, during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' week, Nov. 15, 2023. The two are scheduled to have a phone call in the spring.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are scheduled to have a phone call in the spring, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken is slated to make another trip to Beijing this year as the two nations pursue additional high-level diplomacy to manage competition in the bilateral relationship.

On Saturday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi concluded their more than 12 hours of talks during a two-day meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

A senior U.S. administration official said "the quiet low-profile channel" between Sullivan and Wang is "an important way to manage competition and tensions responsibly" between the two countries.

The official also confirmed to VOA that top U.S. diplomat Blinken will return to Beijing this year. Blinken was the first U.S. Cabinet official to travel to China last year, and his counterpart has since traveled to the United States on a reciprocal visit.

The White House described the talks in Bangkok as candid, substantive and constructive discussions that touched on global and regional issues, including Russia's war against Ukraine, the Middle East, North Korea, the South China Sea, and Burma.

In a statement, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry said both countries will make good use of current strategic communication channels to properly handle sensitive issues.

Houthi aggression

During the latest talks, Sullivan asked Wang to use Beijing's "substantial leverage" over Iran to call for an end to the attacks on Red Sea trade routes by Yemen-based Houthi rebels.

U.S. officials have expressed reservations about whether China is "actually raising" the issue, despite repeated requests from Washington.

"We're looking to actually facts on the ground, and those attacks [by Houthis] seem to be continuing," said the official when asked if China is playing a positive role during a Saturday phone briefing.

Earlier Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said its forces had destroyed an anti-ship missile in Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen, which posed an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the Red Sea. The missile was prepared for launch into the Red Sea.

This action follows sanctions and military strikes earlier this month from the U.S. and its allies against the Houthis.

In Beijing, Chinese officials criticized military strikes by the U.S. and United Kingdom against the Houthis rebels.

"We believe that the [United Nations] Security Council has never authorized the use of force by any country on Yemen, and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yemen and other coastal countries of the Red Sea need to be earnestly respected," said Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson from China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs during a briefing last week.

He said tension in the Red Sea is "a manifestation of the spillover of the Gaza conflict" and the priority is to push for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The Houthis have launched attacks on commercial and military vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden since November, which they said are in support of Palestinians in conflict with Israel.

The U.S. has condemned these actions by the Houthis as disruptions to international supply chains and violations of navigational rights and freedoms.

Counternarcotics efforts

The U.S. and China will hold a formal working group on counternarcotics in Beijing on January 30-31.

As the U.S. and China resumed their counternarcotics cooperation, American officials said Washington is seeing a reduction in the amount of precursor chemicals originating from China at some U.S. airports.

U.S. officials have identified China as the main source of precursor chemicals used in the synthesis of fentanyl by drug cartels in Mexico.

The working group is aimed at stopping the flow of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals into the U.S. that contribute to the fentanyl crisis.

Myanmar military coup

While in Bangkok, Sullivan held talks with Thailand Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and Parnpree Bahiddha-Nukara, the Thai foreign minister.

The senior U.S. official told VOA they discussed the ongoing crisis in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the Burmese people.

Civil war has engulfed Myanmar following a military coup on February 1, 2021, that overthrew the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyy.

"It's fair to say that China certainly does have influence in that region," the official noted.

"We hope to have follow up discussions at [a] lower level in the coming weeks and months, given the need to really remain focused on promoting a return to the path of democratic transition in Burma."

Upcoming AI, military talks

In addition, the U.S. and China are preparing for a dialogue on artificial intelligence in the spring, along with the upcoming counternarcotics working group talks in Beijing next week. Both countries also will hold Military Maritime Consultative Agreement meetings this spring, alongside communications between defense ministers and theater commanders.

Sullivan and Wang have been holding talks approximately every four months outside the U.S. since last May. They met in Vienna on May 10-11, 2023, in Malta on September 16-17, 2023, and in Bangkok on January 26-27. They also had discussions in Washington last October during Wang's visit to the U.S. capital.