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Blinken calls talks with China's leader 'candid,' 'substantive,' and 'constructive'

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says his talks with Chinese counterparts in Beijing were candid, substantive and constructive. China's Xi Jinping talked about what he termed progress. Blinken spent the weekend in Beijing in hopes of repairing a relationship that soured over what the U.S. and China both perceive as threats to stability. Now for his assessment on those talks, we've called Jude Blanchette. He holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Blinken met with Xi Jinping this morning, Jude, and he says he told Xi Jinping that Biden believes that China and D.C. have an obligation to manage their relationship. What do you think manage means?

JUDE BLANCHETTE: Well, at this point, the relationship has deteriorated to such an extent that I think, at a foundational level, manage means steering these two countries away from conflict. And so you saw in the U.S. efforts over the last several weeks and months culminating in this visit that there was an intense effort to address what they thought was the growing risk of misperception and miscalculation in the relationship.

MARTÍNEZ: So basically, just don't get into a war with each other. That's how low this has gotten to.

BLANCHETTE: Sadly, yes.

MARTÍNEZ: And what would that war be about, you think? Is it tech, Taiwan? What would it be about if it got there?

BLANCHETTE: Well, you know, sticking with the visits over the weekend, we can see from the readouts that come from the Chinese side what their bill of indictment is. And core is the issue of Taiwan, which we saw from the meeting readout when Blinken met with Wang Yi, who's China's top diplomat, that they see Taiwan as really the core issue here. And as the readout states on this issue, there's, quote, "no room for any compromise or concession." And so I think there's a growing fear around the world that Taiwan is an issue where the two countries could directly clash. But we also see that China sees, as you indicated, in areas ranging from, you know, technology to trade, that Beijing believes the United States is already engaged in some sort of conflict on these. So there's a lot of issues on the table now that the two capitals need to work through.

MARTÍNEZ: Jude, are lines drawn all over the place? I mean, it just seems like everywhere, everywhere anyone turns to see where there can be consensus, there's a line in the sand drawn.

BLANCHETTE: Yeah, it's - this has become a fraught issue politically, as well, in both capitals, I should say. The politics of U.S.-China relations really constrains the ability of leaders in both capitals to make accommodations. You have - you know, you have participants in the political discussion who don't want to see any sort of compromise here, who believe that this would be, you know, giving away too much. And so if you think about the ability of previous administrations - the Kennedy administration during the Cuban Missile crisis, for example - you know, you really needed a high degree of flexibility to be able to navigating these - navigate these tensions. And in this, you know, media and political environment, it's incredibly difficult for elected officials to have that navigation space.

MARTÍNEZ: Last week, New Jersey Congressman Andy Kim, a member of the House Committee on China, spoke with my colleague Leila Fadel last week. Let's listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANDY KIM: Our policy to China is so reactionary. We're just responding to the latest headlines. It's a spy balloon yesterday. It's TikTok today. And those are important issues, but our policy shouldn't just be that short-sighted.

MARTÍNEZ: Jude, is he right? Is the U.S. failing on a long-term approach to China?

BLANCHETTE: Yeah, I tend to agree with Representative Kim on the way that we're approaching this, which I do think is very much sort of taking this issue by issue and finding ways to respond. And when you do that, you're always going to be on your back heels. I think it's becoming increasingly clear that we need to have a more affirmative long-term vision for precisely how we're going to manage this. I don't think it's possible that we're going to back China into a - you know, into a corner and expect it to change its way. It's a significant and powerful country. But frankly, I think the United States, you know, holds a better set of cards here. It's just that we haven't found the sort of long-term way to manage this.

MARTÍNEZ: Right.

BLANCHETTE: And as we watch - you know, as we watch the two countries jostle together, I think we've got to find ways to deal with this.

MARTÍNEZ: Quickly, one more thing - Blinken just said that he expressed deep concerns about the U.S. - by the U.S. about human rights violations, like in Tibet and Hong Kong. Quickly, can the U.S. pressure there make any difference?

BLANCHETTE: It would be hard to, but we have to continue. The human rights atrocities in China are so significant that we can't leave these off the table. And so I think the administration is doing a good job making sure we raise these.

MARTÍNEZ: Jude Blanchette is a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Jude, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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