(Bloomberg) -- The US and China have only just started renewing diplomatic exchanges after tensions led to a rupture in communications and the trajectory of any rapprochement remains “uncertain,” the White House’s top Asia official said.
“We are still relatively early in the process of this round of re-engagement in terms of dialog and diplomacy,” Kurt Campbell, the White House’s Indo-Pacific coordinator, said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The US believes competition will remain the “dominant frame” of the relationship, he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has rescheduled a trip to Beijing for the next few weeks, people familiar with the matter said Tuesday, and may even meet with President Xi Jinping. The top US diplomat had shelved that trip after an alleged Chinese spy balloon was tracked transiting the continental US in February.
Blinken’s trip would follow a series of other high-level meetings in recent weeks. Last month, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met his counterpart Wang Yi in Vienna, while CIA Director William Burns recently returned from a trip to China. Top commerce and trade officials have also met recently.
Blinken Plans Trip to Beijing in Bid to Stabilize US-China Ties
Campbell said the US aimed for “constructive” diplomacy with Beijing, and hoped for coordination on global issues such as climate change. Competition will remain the focus, he said.
“But at the same time we want that competition to remain within responsible bounds, and we want to avert a descent into confrontation,” Campbell said. “We believe that it is necessary to create the mechanisms of dialog, of discussion, that can deal with mishaps or lack of coordination in terms of when military vessels or airplanes are operating in close proximity.”
That was a reference to two incidents that alarmed US officials in the South China Sea over the last week: A Chinese fighter jet veering across the path of a US reconnaissance aircraft, and a Chinese naval vessel that similarly cut across the path of a US destroyer.
Challenges remain. China’s Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who is sanctioned by the US government, rejected a request by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet while the two men were both attending a security conference in Singapore, a sign of how the two sides have failed to resume normal communications in the military sphere.
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