US-Chinese talks in Vienna… and Brussels seeking a common approach towards Beijing
Officials from both the United States and China held “frank” talks in Vienna, the first at this level in weeks, and come in the midst of growing tension between the two powers over several issues, most notably Taiwan.
Yesterday, Thursday, the White House announced that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with China’s chief foreign affairs official, Wang Yi, in the Austrian capital, on Wednesday and Thursday, in a still tense context between two countries engaged in comprehensive diplomatic, military, economic, and technological competition.
“The two sides held frank, substantive and constructive talks on core issues,” including the war in Ukraine and “cross-strait issues,” the statement said, referring to Taiwan, which Beijing has recently stepped up its rhetoric.
For its part, Xinhua said, “Wang Yi clearly presented China’s official position on the Taiwan issue,” adding that the two sides “agreed to continue making good use of this strategic channel of communication.”
A US official told reporters that the mere fact of holding the meeting was a positive step.
The official, who asked not to be named, told AFP that the goal was to “try to find issues where the interests of the two parties intersect,” stressing that for Washington “it is no secret that keeping communication channels (open) is important, especially in times of tension, and it is important to manage Rivalry”.
He noted that both sides agreed on that.
Relations between the two great powers are witnessing tension in various political, diplomatic and economic fields, as part of a struggle for influence that includes different parts of the world, especially in the Pacific region.
In the past months, the file of the Russian war against Ukraine was added to the open issues of divergence between the two countries.
Although China remained officially neutral in the war that began in late February 2022, its relationship with Russia has witnessed a rapprochement in the recent period, and its President Xi Jinping visited Moscow, where he met his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last March.
This rapprochement raised the concern of Western countries supporting Ukraine, led by the United States, that China would provide military support to Russia in this war. The Americans warned China of such a step.
Washington also expresses its constant concern about Taiwan, the island located in the Pacific Ocean and only a strait separates it from China.
China considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory and pledges to return it to its fold, by force if necessary, and any diplomatic contact between island officials and Western and foreign politicians arouses its ire.
influence in the Pacific
China has recently stepped up its political and military rhetoric towards Taiwan. In April, it conducted three days of military maneuvers around the self-ruled island, which included a simulated “full encirclement”.
The maneuvers drew condemnation from Washington, which called for “restraint”, but at the same time sent a devastating blow to the waters over which Beijing claims sovereignty.
The Chinese maneuvers came as a protest against a meeting in California with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen and US House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
For its part, the United States is working to strengthen its presence in the South Pacific, through a direct military presence or through partnerships with regional countries such as the “Quad Group” that includes Japan, India and Australia, or strengthening cooperation with other countries such as the Philippines.
In March, Xi denounced a US-led Western campaign aimed at “encircling” his country and “containing and suppressing it,” an accusation Washington denied.
The Vienna meeting will revive speculation about a possible meeting between him and his US counterpart, Joe Biden.
In response to a question in this regard, Biden said Wednesday, “There is progress. And it will work.”
The resumption of high-level contacts between Washington and Beijing comes after weeks of interruption, especially in the wake of the balloon crisis.
Tensions escalated between the two countries in February after Chinese balloons were spotted flying over US territory, which Washington described as an espionage operation.
Beijing denied this, and said that the balloon was intended for civilian use and its purpose was to collect meteorological data, but it was derailed by the weather and ended up over US territory.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken canceled a visit to China at the last minute, while the US military shot down the balloon on February 4.
However, Blinken met Wang Yi in the same month on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
The European Union seeks a common approach in its dealings with China
The complex but necessary relationship between the European Union and China is at the heart of a meeting to be held today, Friday, in Stockholm, by the 27 EU foreign ministers, who will try to find a common approach towards the Asian giant.
On Tuesday, German Chancellor Olaf Schultz spoke before the European Parliament about the relationship that has become more difficult with Beijing in light of “more competition from China.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell supports the idea that the meeting in the Swedish capital should make it possible to “end the dissonance of voices” and to express the union’s position towards Beijing in a unified way.
The European Commission has proposed to the 27 countries to restrict the export possibilities of eight Chinese companies accused of re-exporting goods to Russia with sensitive electronic components and technologies such as semiconductors and integrated circuits. But China’s Foreign Minister Chen Gang, who is touring Europe, warned in Berlin that Beijing would “respond” if such measures were adopted.
The Chinese minister had difficult conversations with his German counterpart, Annalina Berbock, who criticized Beijing’s alleged neutrality, saying that Beijing was “on the side of the aggressor”.
For its part, France sought to ease tensions, and its Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna stressed, during her meeting with her Chinese counterpart, on Wednesday evening, “the importance of the role that China can play for global peace and stability.”