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Blinken in Beijing for talks with top Chinese officials


U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is welcomed by Yang Tao, Director General of the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, April 25, 2024.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is welcomed by Yang Tao, Director General of the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of the Foreign Ministry, at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, April 25, 2024.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China to provide a level playing field for American workers and businesses Thursday as he prepared for meetings with top Chinese officials.

Blinken flew to Beijing after meeting with local government officials in the financial hub of Shanghai, home to more than 1,000 U.S. companies.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that at a meeting with Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Chen Jining, Blinken advocated for American companies getting fair treatment.

“In a constructive and candid exchange, the secretary raised concerns about PRC trade policies and non-market economic practices and stressed that the United States seeks a healthy economic competition with the PRC and a level playing field for U.S. workers and firms operating in China,” Miller said. He was referring to People’s Republic of China.

Responding later in the day, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters that Beijing “has always been carrying out economic and trade cooperation in accordance with the principles of the market."

China’s multi-billion-dollar trade surplus with the United States, along with accusations of intellectual property theft and other practices seen as discriminating against U.S. businesses in China, have long been a source of friction in relations.

During a discussion with U.S. and Chinese students from New York University Shanghai, Blinken underscored the importance of expanding exchanges between students, scholars, and business.

"We need to make sure that we are talking to each other, hearing each other, understanding each other," he said.

According to the State Department, the NYU Shanghai student body currently consists of nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students, half of whom are from China. Students from the United States and some 70 other countries represent the other half. There are approximately 500 U.S. students.

Later Thursday, Blinken met with business leaders at the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, advocating for the resolution of a range of trade issues facing the world’s two largest economies.

In a brief video, Blinken said late Wednesday he is in China “to make progress on issues that matter most to the American people, including curbing fentanyl trafficking,” against the backdrop of Shanghai's skyline. He added that officials from the U.S. and China will also discuss other areas where the two countries have "significant disagreements."

While Washington and Beijing are divided over a range of thorny issues, Blinken began his visit to China this week focusing first on the importance of direct engagement. It is something, he said, which is essential for addressing key issues affecting people from both countries and the world.

Analysts told VOA Blinken's visit would bring up a range of contentious issues but also maintain “the tactical thaw” that gained momentum following U.S. President Joe Biden's face-to-face talks with PRC President Xi Jinping last November.

“The relationship continues to grow more competitive militarily, technologically, and diplomatically, but the increase is occurring in a more predictable, controlled manner than it was a year earlier due to both countries' continued investment in high-level diplomacy,” Ali Wyne, a senior research and advocacy adviser for International Crisis Group, told VOA Mandarin in an email.

Intensive diplomacy between Washington and Beijing has yielded little progress in curtailing China's supply of precursor chemicals used to manufacture illicit fentanyl that affects the United States. Tensions are escalating due to China's support for Russia in its war on Ukraine, prompting the U.S. to warn of further actions against China.

“I'm very pessimistic about this visit. Xi Jinping is committed to helping his close friend (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and will not be very responsive to America's requests,” Dennis Wilder, senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, told VOA Mandarin.

A day before Blinken departed for Shanghai, he unveiled the State Department's annual report on human rights practices, which said that the PRC government continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. Blinken told reporters that he would raise the issue of human rights with the Beijing government.

Blinken is expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing Friday afternoon.

The State Department said Blinken will hold a press conference in Beijing before returning to Washington.

VOA Mandarin contributed to this report.