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China’s top diplomat in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — China’s top diplomat is meeting high-level US officials, possibly including President Joe Biden, on a highly watched visit to Washington that could help stabilise US-China ties by facilitating a summit between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, met Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday afternoon, shortly after he landed for the three-day visit and quickly raised hopes that the relationship can be steadied.

Before going into their closed-door meeting, Wang said China would seek consensus and cooperation to “push the relationship as soon as possible back to the track of healthy, stable and sustainable development.”

Before the meeting, US officials said they would press Wang on the importance of China stepping up its role on the world stage if it wants to be considered a responsible major international player. The US has been disappointed with China over its support for Russia in the war against Ukraine and its relative silence on the Israel-Hamas war.

“China should use whatever ability it has as an influential power to urge calm” in the Middle East, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “We know China has relationships with a number of countries in the region, and we would urge them to use those relationships, the lines of communication they have, to urge calm and stability.”

US officials believe the Chinese have considerable leverage with Iran, which is a major backer of Hamas.

In a readout after the meeting, the State Department said the two men addressed “areas of difference” and “areas of cooperation,” while Blinken “reiterated that the United States will continue to stand up for our interests and values and those of our allies and partners.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said, “The two sides had an in-depth exchange of views on China-US relations and issues of common concern in a constructive atmosphere.”

Wang is scheduled to meet again Friday with Blinken as well as national security adviser Jake Sullivan. They are expected to urge China to play a constructive role in both the Israel-Hamas and Russia-Ukraine wars.

It’s not yet clear if Wang will meet with Biden. The diplomatic practice of reciprocity suggests it is likely, since Blinken met with Xi when he visited China in June.

Neither side has confirmed whether Biden and Xi will meet next month on the side-lines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders gathering in San Francisco. But Wang’s trip indicates the likelihood is extremely high, said Scott Kennedy, senior adviser and trustee chair in Chinese business and economics at the Washington-based think tank Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

“His visit is most likely about nailing down the agenda and negotiating potential deliverables,” Kennedy said.

The Chinese president last came to the US in 2017, when former President Donald Trump hosted him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Biden, who took office in 2021, has yet to host Xi on US soil. The two men last met in Bali, Indonesia, in November 2022, on the side-lines of the Group of 20 meeting of leading rich and developing nations.

The US-China relationship began to sour in 2018 when the Trump administration slapped hefty tariffs on USD50 billion worth of Chinese goods. It deteriorated further over a range of issues, including rights abuses, the South China Sea, Taiwan, technology and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi after a bilateral meeting at the State Department in Washington, Thursday, October 26, 2023. PHOTO: AP