Secretary of State Antony Blinken left Washington on Friday night for China. The trip, which was postponed after an incident in February over a suspected Chinese spy balloon, is being closely watched on Capitol Hill.
Blinken is expected to focus on the importance of maintaining open lines of communication between the two countries and discussing regional security issues, climate change and the global economy. State Department officials also said the issue of illegal fentanyl trafficking to the United States would also be a prominent part of the talks.
Ahead of the trip, VOA Mandarin Service spoke with several U.S. lawmakers about their expectations for the talks, including what issues should be the top priorities for the bilateral dialogue.
The interviews have been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: Is this a good time for Secretary Blinken to go to Beijing?
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman, House Foreign Affairs Committee: I guess there’s never really a good time. I know [the Biden administration is] trying to use more of a charm offensive approach. We have to be a little careful, because when we go over there, that’s a big concession on the part of the United States to China. So, I think it’s good to have an open line of communication, have a hotline.
Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific: Obviously, the relationship is not at a great place right now. But I think it’s important for both sides to continue to talk and communicate.
Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA), member, Foreign Affairs Committee: I think it’s important to go. We have great differences. We have great competitions. But ultimately, we have to work in this globe together on issues where that’s possible. And we won’t have the possibility of improving that situation without having discussions.
VOA: What would you like Secretary Blinken to discuss with his counterparts in Beijing?
Young Kim (R-CA), chairwoman, House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Indo-Pacific: Our foreign policy towards China should be very, very clear in terms their surveillance of operations targeting in the United States, or their increased aggression towards Taiwan or other Indo-Pacific partners and human rights abuses. Those are not acceptable. China’s treatment of its people, especially with respect to human rights violations, especially in the Xinjiang province and other areas, we’re not going to be tolerating it.
McCaul: De-escalation of the tension in the Taiwan Strait is number one. Human rights issues, obviously. I’m working on export controls. I don’t want to sell them technology, that they’re going to turn around and use in their advanced weapon systems that then can be pointed against us in a future conflict.
Bera: Climate change, certainly global health security are two areas that are important to both of us. And certainly, maybe there’s some areas around trade.
Keating: In terms of some of the military issues, trying to de-escalate there would be a smart move.
VOA: Are you optimistic China will work with the U.S. on issues such as climate change?
Bera: Not 100% optimistic, but I think it’s important that we make the effort. I think it’s important for both sides to continue to talk and communicate.
Kim: We hope that they will be able to cooperate with us, but you know, historically speaking, they have shown that they are not a reliable, trusting partner. At this point, Secretary Blinken should be able to make it very clear that we want China to abide by the same rules we expect other partners and allies in the Indo Pacific to.
Keating: I hope so. We all share the same planet. Climate change is real.