The top diplomats from the United States and China met Saturday for more than five hours in an effort to reduce growing tensions between the two countries. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. relationship with China is “highly consequential.”
He said that in their round of talks, he voiced concerns about provocative language and action targeted at Taiwan, as well as human rights issues.
Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held the morning of talks as well as a working lunch Saturday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, following a gathering of the Group of 20 major economies.
Before the morning meeting Blinken noted that in a relationship as complex and consequential as the one between the United States and China, there is a lot to talk about.
For his part, Wang said China and the United States need to work together to ensure that their relationship will continue to move forward along the right track.
“This is part of an ongoing, and I think important, series of conversations with our Chinese counterparts across the government to make sure that we are responsibly managing the relationship,” a senior State Department official said Thursday, adding that the relationship has “different aspects to it, from profound competition being at the heart (but also) elements of cooperation, and there are elements of contestation.”
The United States and China have been at odds over a series of issues, including Taiwan, use of the strategic South China Sea, trade and human rights.
The agenda for Saturday’s meetings includes possible cooperation on climate change, global health, counternarcotics and the situation in Myanmar, said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Kritenbrink.
The first of the Blinken–Wang meetings Saturday was expected to focus on bilateral relations and the second on regional and international issues, according to diplomatic sources.
Blinken’s meeting with the Chinese foreign minister is their first in person since the chief U.S. diplomat unveiled the Biden administration’s strategy to outcompete the rival superpower.
In his remarks at the time, Blinken said that the U.S. was not seeking to decouple from China and that the relationship between the world’s two largest economies was not a zero-sum game.
On Friday, the G-20 talks were dominated by discussion of the war in Ukraine and its impact on energy and food supplies.
Indonesia, as the meeting’s host country, called on ministers to “find a way forward” in discussing the war and its impact on rising food and energy prices.
“It is our responsibility to end the war sooner rather than later and settle our differences at the negotiating table, not at the battlefield,” Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said at the opening of the meeting, invoking the U.N. charter to urge multilateralism and trust.
Foreign ministers shared concerns about getting grain shipments out of Ukraine and avoiding devastating food shortages in Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. But talks were marked by sharp tension: Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sat at the same table but did not speak directly.
Lavrov accused Western ministers of straying “almost immediately, as soon as they took the floor, to the frenzied criticism of the Russian Federation in connection with the situation in Ukraine.”
“You know, it was not us who abandoned all contacts,” Lavrov told reporters after the first session. “It was the United States … and we are not running after anybody suggesting meetings. If they don’t want to talk, it’s their choice.”
Lavrov walked out of the meetings twice Friday – first, as German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock addressed a session on strengthening multilateralism, and second, just before Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, addressed the session on food and energy security via video link.
At a plenary session, Blinken urged Moscow to release Ukrainian grain to the world, according to a Western official.
“He addressed Russia directly, saying, ‘To our Russian colleagues: Ukraine is not your country. Its grain is not your grain. Why are you blocking the ports? You should let the grain out,'” the official said.
Lavrov was not in the room when Blinken spoke.
After Saturday’s talks between Blinken and Wang, the top U.S. diplomat will head to Bangkok, where he is expected to discuss the situation in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Cecily Hilleary contributed to this report.