Chinese leader Xi Jinping and top American diplomat Antony Blinken met in Beijing on Monday, in a potentially crucial step toward patching US-China ties after they cratered in the wake of a dispute over a Chinese surveillance balloon earlier this year.
The two met at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
Blinken is the first US Secretary of State to visit Beijing in five years and his talks with senior Chinese officials are seen as a key litmus test for whether some sort of detente can be forged at a time of lingering distrust.
Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, met Blinken around 4:30 pm (0830 GMT) on Monday, Chinese state media said. The meeting came after Blinken held more than 10 hours of talks over two days with other top officials.
Uncertainty around whether Xi and Blinken would meet during the two-day visit further highlighted the fraught US-China relations and a failure to schedule a face to face would have been seen by Washington as a slight, breaking with a number of previous visits from top American diplomats.
The meeting was only publicly announced by the US about an hour before it went ahead.
The two global powers have been increasingly at loggerheads over a host of issues ranging from Beijing’s close ties with Moscow to American efforts to limit the sale of advanced technologies to China.
Key among those concerns has been repairing fractured lines of communication, which have broken down over the past year, especially when it comes to high-level military exchanges – raising concerns in Washington that a mistake or accident could quickly spin into conflict.
Earlier this year a Chinese surveillance balloon – detected floating across the US and hovering over sensitive military sites before ultimately being shot down by an American fighter plane – sent relations plunging to a new low and resulted in Blinken scrapping an earlier Beijing visit.
This time, the diplomatic mission went forward.
But a roughly three-hour meeting between Blinken and China’s top foreign affairs adviser Wang Yi Monday morning underscored the deep challenges in overcoming the mistrust and friction that has come to characterize the relationship.