Blinken to meet businesses in Shanghai as he kicks off a tough China trip

By Thomson Reuters Apr 24, 2024 | 7:25 PM

By Simon Lewis

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet business leaders in Shanghai on Thursday as ties between Washington and Beijing stabilise, pushing to resolve a raft of issues threatening the newly gained equilibrium between the rivals.

Blinken’s visit is the latest high-level contact between the two nations that, along with working groups on issues from global trade to military communication, have tempered the public acrimony that drove relations to historic lows early last year.

But Washington and Beijing have made little headway on curbing China’s supply of chemicals used to make fentanyl, the South China Sea remains a flashpoint, and strains are growing over China’s backing of Russia in its war in Ukraine.

Blinken, in a short video statement posted to X with the Shanghai skyline in the background late on Wednesday, said curbing the flow of chemicals used to make fentanyl to the U.S. from China was one of several issues he was in China to work on.

In addition to business leaders, Blinken will also meet with local officials and students before heading to Beijing for talks on Friday with his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and a likely meeting with President Xi Jinping.

Blinken also attended a basketball game and dined at a steamed bun restaurant Wednesday night with U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns, underscoring the importance to the U.S. of rebuilding personal connections with the Chinese people.

“Face to face diplomacy matters,” said Blinken in the short clip posted to X. “It is important for avoiding miscommunications and misperceptions, and to advance the interests of the American people.”

Blinken will press China to stop its firms from retooling and resupplying Russia’s defence industrial base. Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022, just days after agreeing a “no limits” partnership with Beijing, and while China has steered clear of providing arms, U.S. officials warn Chinese companies are sending dual-use technology that helps Russia’s war effort.

A Chinese foreign ministry official quoted by state news agency Xinhua earlier this week said relations “have shown a trend of stopping decline and stabilising,” since Biden and Xi met in San Francisco in November.

But the official criticised what they called Washington’s “stubborn strategy of containing China, and its erroneous words and deeds of interfering in China’s internal affairs, tarnishing China’s image and undermining China’s interests.”

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; Writing by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Christopher Cushing)