Blinken to pay long-awaited China visit on February 5-6

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Beijing on February 5-6, a US official said Tuesday, giving dates for a long-awaited trip aimed at keeping high tensions in check.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Blinken would arrive in the Chinese capital on February 5 and also hold talks the following day, going ahead with the visit despite mounting concern about Covid-19 cases in China.

Blinken will be the first US secretary of state to visit China since October 2018 when his Republican predecessor Mike Pompeo, known for his outspoken criticism of Beijing, made a brief stop following talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.

Blinken's trip was announced in November when Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met in Bali on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit, with the leaders of the world's two largest economies both voicing guarded hope at preventing disagreements from spiraling out of control.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin welcomed the visit and said that he hoped Blinken would follow the path of the Xi-Biden meeting and help "push China-US relations back on the track of healthy and stable development."

Tensions soared in August as China staged war games near Taiwan, which it claims, following a defiant visit to the self-governing democracy by Nancy Pelosi, then the speaker of the US House of Representatives.

Blinken has previously warned that China may be stepping up its timeframe for considering an invasion of Taiwan.

Meeting last week with the foreign and defense ministers of close US ally Japan, Blinken said his trip to China aimed in part at keeping open channels of communication.

"What we don't want is for any misunderstanding to veer into conflict," Blinken said.

Blinken said that the Biden administration was committed to establishing "guardrails" on tensions so as to "manage this relationship responsibly," including finding potential areas of cooperation such as climate change and global health.

"We're not looking for conflict. We'll manage the competition responsibly, but we will compete vigorously," Blinken said.