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US to Push China for a 'More Constructive Approach' Amid Israel-Hamas War

FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a news conference in Beijing, Oct. 18, 2023. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host Wang in Washington for a three-day visit starting Thursday.
FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi speaks during a news conference in Beijing, Oct. 18, 2023. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host Wang in Washington for a three-day visit starting Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will visit Washington late Thursday, a trip seen as paving the way for further high-level meetings between the United States and China.

His visit comes as U.S. officials want to “push the Chinese to take a more constructive approach” amid Israel’s war with Hamas militants and as Russia continues its war on Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host Wang Oct. 26-28. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan will also hold talks with Wang, according to two senior administration officials.

Sullivan held talks with Wang in Malta Sept. 16-17 following their meetings in Vienna May 10-11. The White House said they discussed issues including Russia’s war in Ukraine and also noted the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

U.S. President Joe Biden is likely to drop by to greet China’s top diplomat, according to people familiar with the planning. Biden has said he is likely to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month on the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco. The highly watched potential meeting would be Xi’s first trip to the United States since April 2017.

“We continue to believe that direct, face-to-face diplomacy is the best way to raise challenging issues, address misperception and miscommunication and explore working with the Chinese where our interests intersect,” a senior administration official said on Monday.

Israel-Hamas war

Wang’s visit to Washington comes as the U.S. urges China to use its lines of communication with countries in the Middle East to others such as Iran from attacking Israel and widening the war with Hamas.

"We know Iran continues to support Hamas and Hezbollah. And we know that Iran is closely monitoring these events, in some cases, actively facilitating these attacks and spurring on others who may want to exploit the conflict for their own good or for that of Iran,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said during a Monday briefing.

Proposal on AI arms control talks

One emerging issue is a discussion with China about artificial intelligence arms control. The U.S. is looking for a reliable arrangement with the Chinese government to prevent AI involvement in the decision-making for nuclear command and control.

“We've been clear that AI — we believe presents not only opportunity, but a great deal of risk, as well. … It certainly has come up in glancing mention in previous conversations with Chinese interlocutors,” a senior administration official told VOA during a phone briefing on Monday.

Another official said he is confident this issue will be addressed during Blinken’s talks with Wang later this week, as Washington has stated its interest to manage these types of issues responsibly.

In an email response to VOA, Chinese Embassy spokesperson in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said China and the U.S. “have stayed in communication” regarding AI, but he did not provide further details.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger has also advocated that Biden and Xi should meet in the near future for a private conversation about AI arms control.

Deep differences, including the fentanyl crisis, forced technology transfers and regional security remain between the world’s two largest economies.

South China Sea

On Monday, the United States reiterated its commitment to defend the Philippines in the event of an armed attack, as stipulated in a 1951 treaty. This statement followed an incident on Sunday when Chinese ships blocked and collided with two Filipino vessels near Second Thomas Shoal. While no injuries were reported, the encounters resulted in damage to a Philippine coast guard ship and a wooden-hulled supply boat operated by navy personnel.

In a call Monday to his Philippine national security counterpart Eduardo Ano, Sullivan reaffirmed U.S. support for Manila, calling the Chinese maritime actions "dangerous and unlawful.”

The latest incident came as the U.S. Defense Department warned of “a sharp increase" in coercive and risky behaviors by China's People's Liberation Army in the East and South China Seas.

The Pentagon has called for sustained military-to-military dialogues between the United States and China.

“If we're truly going to minimize the risk of miscalculation that could veer into conflict, we have to get our military-to-military dialogues fully open,” a senior administration official told reporters during a phone briefing on Monday.

China asserts sovereignty over nearly the entire South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway with competing territorial claims from several other countries. Beijing has consistently stated that the deployment of U.S. ships and aircraft over the South China Sea is detrimental to regional peace.

Fentanyl crisis

Washington also is calling for Beijing’s cooperation to stop the flow of precursor chemicals that are fueling the fentanyl crisis.

U.S. officials have said sanctions on China’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang should not be used as an excuse to stall talks to address the fentanyl crisis.

“They [Chinese officials] do complain that we have sanctioned — the United States sanctioned — the Institute of Forensic Science, which is one of the labs in the Ministry of Public Security. But that was for reasons having to do with human rights violations in Xinjiang — nothing to do with narcotics,” U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said at a recent event.

Fentanyl is the leading cause of death of Americans between the ages of 18 to 49. The U.S. government has been working to disrupt the global illegal drug trade and stem the opioid epidemic.

A congressional delegation that visited Beijing earlier this month raised the fentanyl crisis directly with Chinese leadership.

"We called on President Xi to work with the United States to stem the flow of precursor chemicals that are fueling America's fentanyl crisis. We urge President Xi to open a channel of communication to stem the flow of fentanyl precursor chemicals. We believe it's imperative on this issue that China acts,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“It is unconscionable to me that the leader of a country would refuse to address the horrible effects of a drug like fentanyl,” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told VOA Mandarin last week.

The upcoming high-level meetings between the U.S. and China do not mean that Washington will try to resume the Obama-era China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a mechanism that brings together Cabinet members and senior officials annually in each country’s capital, according to analysts. The S&ED was terminated by the Trump administration.

“I don't think there's any conversation in the Biden administration about resuming the Strategic and Economic Dialogue,” said Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “That is a thing of the past. The United States certainly wants to have good communication mechanisms with China but wants them to be more targeted and more focused.”