US national security adviser will meet China’s top diplomat this week in Switzerland, confirms White House

·4-min read

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan will meet with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, in Europe this week, as the two sides seek to reduce the soaring tensions between them.

Sullivan and Yang will meet in Switzerland to discuss efforts by the two sides to “responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China,” Emily Horne, a National Security Council spokeswoman, said in confirming an earlier report by the South China Morning Post.

Horne said that the meeting would follow up US President Joe Biden’s September 9 telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, when the leaders discussed the risk of bilateral friction veering into unintended conflict amid continuing confrontations on issues including Taiwan, trade, technology, and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

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Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, speaking on Monday at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, discussed the Biden administration’s review of its China trade policy. Photo: Bloomberg
Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, speaking on Monday at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, discussed the Biden administration’s review of its China trade policy. Photo: Bloomberg

Sullivan and Yang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo, are to meet in Zurich just after the Biden administration formally unveiled its long-anticipated review of its China trade policy.

On Monday, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that Beijing had failed to live up to commitments made in last year’s “phase one” trade deal, and indicated that US tariffs on Chinese imports would remain in place, with the possibility of targeted exclusions.

China, US eye further talks with Yang Jiechi set to meet Jake Sullivan

Also likely to loom large over the talks is the issue of Taiwan, amid consecutive days of sorties by Chinese military aircraft into the self-governed island’s airspace. On Monday, China dispatched a record 52 fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.

The US has decried the incursions as provocative and destabilising, with a State Department spokesman warning on Saturday that they risked provoking “miscalculations” and reaffirming the administration’s “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan.

This week’s talks will mark the first time Sullivan and Yang have met since a pugnacious summit in Alaska in March, where Chinese and US diplomats traded barbs during the Biden administration’s first in-person meeting with Beijing officials.

The two are expected to meet on Wednesday and will also discuss the possibility of an in-person summit between Biden and Xi, the Post previously reported, citing sources familiar with the arrangements. An NSC representative declined to comment on that reporting.

Sullivan has said that the White House was considering the G20 meetings in Italy on October 30 and 31 as a potential opportunity, though Beijing has said that a leaders’ summit was unlikely before the end of the year.

While Biden and Xi have yet to meet, engagements at other levels of the two governments have continued apace, with the Sullivan-Yang talks the fifth time this year high-level officials have met.

Biden’s special envoy for climate change, John Kerry, has travelled twice to China for discussions with his Chinese counterpart, and Wendy Sherman, the US deputy secretary of state, visited Tianjin in July for talks with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and vice foreign minister Xie Feng.

Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office for China, is to meet with Sullivan as a follow-up to a September 9 phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the White House said. Photo: AFP
Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office for China, is to meet with Sullivan as a follow-up to a September 9 phone call between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the White House said. Photo: AFP

Chinese officials have used the meetings to warn their US counterparts that Washington should not expect Beijing’s cooperation on matters like climate change while confrontations continue on other fronts.

Even as they have kept in place, or even escalated, many hawkish China-related policies enacted during the Donald Trump administration, Biden officials have framed their actions not as an offence against Beijing but a defence of the “rules-based international order”.

During an event in Paris on Tuesday for the Blue Dot Network – a programme promoted by the US, Australia and Japan to attract private capital for international development projects – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken deflected a question about whether the initiative was a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

“Fundamentally, this is about what we’re for, not what or who we’re against,” he said.

But in language closely echoing common belt-and-road critiques, Blinken added that investments should be made “with quality in mind, with communities in mind, with environmental impact in mind, with the rights and responsibilities of all of the stakeholders, including labour, in mind”.

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