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In Beijing, Blinken meets Xi and raises US concerns about China’s support for Russia

In Beijing, Blinken meets Xi and raises US concerns about China’s support for Russia
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing, capital of China, April 25, 2024. EPA-EFE/XINHUA / Chen Yehua CHINA OUT / UK AND IRELAND OUT /

BEIJING, April 26 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken raised concerns on Friday about China's support for Russia's military, one of the many issues threatening to sour the recent improvement in relations between the world's biggest economies.

Blinken raised the matter during five-and-a-half hours of talks with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi in Beijing, the latest high-level contact between the countries that have reduced the acrimony that pushed ties to historic lows last year.

The U.S. diplomat is due to wrap up his visit on Friday with little progress on a raft of contentious issues including U.S. complaints about cheap Chinese exports. Instead, both sides are focusing on pragmatic issues like people-to-people exchanges.

“The Secretary discussed concerns about PRC support to the Russian defense industrial base,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said, adding the two sides also discussed Taiwan, the South China Sea and other flashpoints.

The PRC is short for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.

Despite its “no limits” partnership with Moscow, China has steered clear of providing arms for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

But U.S. officials warn its companies are helping the weapons industry with an unprecedented build up that has helped to turn the tide of the war. For example, bigger machine tool imports from China have helped Russia increase its ballistic missile production, they say.

The U.S. officials say such assistance risks hurting the broader bilateral relationship, even as ties stabilise after being hit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in 2022 and the U.S. downing of a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon in February 2023.

China has said it has not provided weaponry to any party, adding that it is “not a producer of or party involved in the Ukraine crisis”. However, it says that normal trade between China and Russia should not be interrupted or restricted.

 

STEADYING THE SHIP

In addition to his talks with Wang, Blinken met Chinese President Xi Jinping, who reiterated Beijing’s concerns that the United States was suppressing its economic development.

“This is a fundamental issue that must be addressed, just like the first button of a shirt that must be put right, in order for the China-U.S. relationship to truly stabilise, improve and move forward,” Xi said.

Earlier, Wang told Blinken that the “giant ship” of the China-U.S. ties had stabilised, “but negative factors in the relationship are still increasing and building.”

Wang also said the U.S. had taken “endless” measures to suppress China’s economy, trade, science and technology, equating such steps to containment.

“And the relationship is facing all kinds of disruptions. China’s legitimate development rights have been unreasonably suppressed and our core interests are facing challenges,” Wang told Blinken.

The agenda for the talks had been set during the November summit between Biden and Xi in San Francisco and a follow-up call in April.

Underscoring the growing discord between the two sides, hours before Blinken landed in China on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill that included $8 billion to counter China’s military might, as well as billions in defence aid for Taiwan and $61 billion for Ukraine.

Wang said the U.S. must not step on “red lines” covering sovereignty, security and development interests – an apparent reference to Taiwan, the democratically governed island that China claims as its own, and the disputed South China Sea.

Other issues on the table include artificial intelligence and the U.S. push for progress on the curbing of China’s supply of the chemicals used to make fentanyl.

Blinken, along with senior U.S. officials focused on anti-narcotics collaboration with China, met China’s minister of public security, Wang Xiaohong, to discuss the fentanyl issue.

Ahead of Friday’s talks, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen signalled that Biden was not taking any options off the table to respond to China’s excess industrial capacity.

Wang said that the U.S. should stop “hyping up” the “false narrative” of China’s overcapacity.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Beijing newsroom; Writing by Antoni Slodkowski and Greg Torode. Editing by Gerry Doyle and Miral Fahmy)

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