Blinken calls for US, China to manage differences ahead of talks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Jining (Mark Schiefelbein)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Jining (Mark Schiefelbein)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Thursday on the United States and China to manage their differences "responsibly" as he landed in Beijing for tough talks with the rival power's leaders.

Blinken is expected to address a range of thorny issues including Chinese support for Russia and its treatment of Taiwan, with China likely to raise trade concerns such as new US action against popular social media app TikTok.

Blinken headed straight to a closed-door gathering with leading Chinese scholars on Thursday.

On Friday a full day of talks with China's political leadership is planned, including a possible meeting with President Xi Jinping.

Blinken arrived from Shanghai, where the top US diplomat attempted a charm offensive that saw him sample local food, watch a basketball game and stroll along the city's famous Bund promenade.

Visiting the local Communist Party leader in a room with sweeping views of the Shanghai skyline, Blinken said US President Joe Biden was committed to "direct and sustained" dialogue between the world's two largest economies after years of mounting tension.

"I think it's important to underscore the value -- in fact, the necessity -- of direct engagement, of speaking to each other, laying out our differences, which are real, seeking to work through them," Blinken said.

"We have an obligation for our people -- indeed an obligation to the world -- to manage the relationship between our two countries responsibly."

The Chinese Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, Chen Jining, welcomed Blinken partly in English and spoke of the importance of US businesses to the city.

"Whether we choose cooperation or confrontation affects the well-being of both peoples, both countries and the future of humanity," Chen told him.

Blinken also met students at the Shanghai campus of New York University, where he voiced hope for more Americans to study in China.

He insisted the United States was committed to welcoming Chinese students.

Beijing has repeatedly alleged that Chinese nationals with valid travel documents, including students, have been subject to aggressive interrogations and deportations at US airports.

"President Biden and President Xi are determined to strengthen our people-to-people ties," Blinken said.

He also met US business leaders, telling them that the two countries needed to make sure the "economic relationship is working in the ways that it should work to mutual benefit".

- Pressing on Russia -

Blinken, the first US secretary of state to visit Shanghai in 14 years, opened his visit Wednesday evening at a restaurant serving steamed buns before going to watch a basketball match between the Shanghai Sharks and the Zhejiang Golden Bulls.

Such softer diplomacy, once a staple of US-China relations, would have been unimaginable until recently, with hawks in both countries speaking of an emerging new Cold War.

Blinken's aides hope his smiling persona at public events draws an implicit contrast to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov's gruffer approach when he visited China this month.

The next leg of Blinken's trip is set to be far less relaxing when he meets top cadres in Beijing.

China has not announced plans for Blinken to meet Xi, although a meeting was announced at the last minute during his previous visit in June.

Among the many sticky issues Blinken is expected to raise in Beijing are concerns about China's relationship with Russia.

Although US officials were initially pleased that Beijing has not shipped weapons to Russia for its war in Ukraine, they now say that China's alarm at Moscow's setbacks on the battlefield has prompted it to export vast quantities of industrial supplies to Russia.

US officials believe China is more receptive to Western concerns as it seeks to focus on managing economic headwinds at home and wants to avoid friction with the West.

But China is also furious about a series of moves by Biden -- who is facing a tough re-election fight in November against Donald Trump -- they say serve to constrain the Chinese economy.

Most recently, the US Congress approved legislation that would force the divestment of TikTok from its Chinese owners or face a ban in the world's largest economy.

Biden supports the legislation, arguing that TikTok, popular among young people, poses security and privacy concerns. China has accused the United States of unfair economic coercion.

Unusually, Trump has distanced himself from a TikTok ban. He has otherwise championed a tough line on China, with vows to raise tariffs drastically if he returns to office.