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How Secretary Blinken is tackling the China relationship (and others in the region)

A China Central Television news broadcast shows footage of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with China's President Xi Jinping on Monday.
Greg Baker
AFP via Getty Images
A China Central Television news broadcast shows footage of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meeting with China's President Xi Jinping on Monday.

The secretary of state has just wrapped his visit to China, having put time and effort into a country of enormous importance to the U.S. Towards the end of his trip, Antony Blinken met with China's leader, Xi Jinping, with whom he spoke for more than half an hour.

Shortly afterwards, Blinken spoke to NPR. He called the Beijing talks "candid, substantive, and constructive."

Who is he? Blinken has been by Joe Biden's side since the president was in the Senate.

  • He has a long history in foreign affairs and has spent much of his time as secretary of state meeting with partners and allies, telling them that the U.S. is back after the Donald Trump era. 
  • He once joked that he might have to find an apartment near NATO headquarters, because he's spending so much time there.
  • Blinken joins Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.
    Leah Millis / POOL/AFP via Getty Images
    POOL/AFP via Getty Images
    Blinken joins Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Monday.

    What's the big deal about this trip to China? This is America's most consequential relationship, both when it comes to trade and geopolitics.

  • Blinken was scheduled to go earlier this year, but the trip in February was scuttled as a Chinese spy balloon slowly made its way across the United States. The U.S. ended up shooting it down and it has taken months to get this trip back on track.
  • Much of the Biden administration's approach to the world focuses on the U.S. competition with China. Blinken has just become the highest level administration official to travel to Beijing.
  • He's also been a key figure as the U.S. rebuilds alliances across the globe to counter China and uphold international norms.
  • Blinken called the Beijing talks constructive, but he also said China has not agreed to resume military-to-military cooperation with the United States, though he raised that issue repeatedly during meetings with Chinese officials.
  • On Taiwan, the thorniest issue between the U.S. and China, Blinken stressed the importance of cooperatively managing the "challenge" of Taiwan, as the two have done "for nearly five decades," especially given Taiwan's important role in global trade. 

  • Want to know more? Listen to NPR's interview with Blinken by tapping the play button at the top of this article.

    What are people saying?

  • This trip was closely watched not just by Chinese and American commentators, but also by those from Asian countries such as Singapore. Here's what Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said on Friday when meeting with Blinken:
  • "There are many global, planetary issues – climate, pandemics, even cyber security – which require the United States and China to work off the same page and be key pillars for a global system which will help increase resilience to threats to welfare, health and prosperity for people all over the world."

  • In China, anti-American sentiment is riding high. Beijing blames Washington for causing problems in the bilateral relations. Professor Zhu Feng, a prominent international relations scholar at Nanjing University in China, told NPR he's "pessimistic" about the trajectory of the relations. He says because the U.S. is "determined to treat China as its biggest competitor," it's unlikely to see any fundamental change following such a visit.
  • China's state-backed newspaper, The Global Times, had this to say about the meeting between Xi and Blinken:
  • "[It] signaled that the talks between Chinese and U.S. senior diplomats from Sunday to Monday reached some consensus, showing that the Chinese government highly values the stable development of China-U.S. relations, underscoring its sincerity and goodwill and paving the way for the next phase of China-U.S. high-level interactions in coming months."

    So, what now?

  • Talks between the world's two largest economies are set to continue. Over the weekend, Blinken invited China's foreign minister, Qin Gang, to visit Washington to continue the conversation. 
  • Whether the two countries will resume their military-military cooperation remains to be seen — and remains to be the area of concern to many China watchers.
  • Leaders from the U.S. and China are likely to meet in person in the coming months: G20 this fall in India, and APEC in November in San Francisco. 
  • But domestic politics in the U.S. still matter, especially as the 2024 U.S. presidential election approaches. On the Hill, the head of the high-profile House China committee, Mike Gallagher, for example, called the administration's interaction with Beijing "zombie engagement" (although not everyone on this committee agrees with Gallagher. For example, Rep. Andy Kim.)
  • Learn more:

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his musical alter ego
  • Biden's foreign policy plan will face some big tests in 2023
  • Secretary Of State nominee Blinken promises a reengaged America abroad
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
    Vincent Ni
    Vincent Ni is the Asia Editor at NPR, where he leads a team of Asia-based correspondents whose reporting spans from Afghanistan to Japan, and across all NPR platforms.