It was never going to be simple. Given the low ebb of current US-China relations – to put it mildly – Antony Blinken was always going to have to deal with some difficult rhetoric and some strained smiles during his two-day, high-stakes trip to Beijing. The first by a US secretary of state in five years.
The issues between the two nations are numerous, stretching far back beyond the administration of Joe Biden, a Donald Trump trade war being a particular highlight. Although rhetoric has definitely hardened in recent months, particularly around Taiwan – the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own. The shooting down of an alleged Chinese spy balloon over the US earlier this year – an incident that delayed Blinken's trip until now – only increase the tension.
The United States has long stuck to a policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether it would respond militarily to an attack on Taiwan, which Beijing has refused to rule out. That, mixed with China's naval ambitions around the region and Washington's strengthening of security agreements with allies to try and strategically contain them, have raised fears of a spiral into an open conflict. The two sides have seen multiple dangerous military incidents, including a near collision of warships in the Taiwan Strait and a close encounter of military jets over the South China Sea.
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