National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held 12 hours of meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Malta this weekend, potentially paving the way for leader-level discussions later this year. Although the talks come as tensions are soaring between the world’s two largest economies, the meeting has been described as “candid, substantive and constructive,” according to separate statements published Sunday by the White House and the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Reportedly, the U.S. side declared its readiness to collaborate with Beijing on the issues of counter-narcotics, artificial intelligence, and climate change. Both Washington and Beijing agreed to maintain these high-level exchanges and continue holding bilateral consultations covering foreign policy, Asia-Pacific affairs, and maritime affairs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
Similarly, the White House is strongly suggesting there will be more talks in the near term, saying the two sides “committed to maintain this strategic channel of communication and to pursue additional high-level engagement and consultations in key areas…in the coming months.”
A senior White House official said Sullivan also “stressed that China should not try to aid Russia in its war on Ukraine.” This echoes a months-old propaganda claim originally made by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, without evidence, during his meeting with Wang in February. The White House official conceded to reporters China has not provided Moscow with any substantial weaponry. Beijing denies Washington’s accusation which is based on “scant intelligence,” according to an official from a G7 country speaking to Reuters.
The official also said “there have been some small or limited indications” that Beijing is willing to re-open cross-military communications—used to deescalate conflicts—which were cut off by China after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s provocative visit to Taipei last August. Beijing has not commented on the prospect of re-opening these channels. When Pelosi left the island, China launched the largest-ever military drills around the island.
Sullivan is said to have expressed concerns about Beijing recently sending fighter jets across the sensitive but informal median line separating the Taiwan Strait. This is a regular occurrence now as China has maintained the military pressure on Taiwan since Pelosi’s visit, but this almost never happened until Washington began sending high level officials to the island which Beijing views as a serious violation of the One-China principle.
Between 1954 and 2020, Beijing flew only four military flights over the median line. From September 2020 until August 2022, there were still fewer than 25 such flights. In August of 2022, however, the People’s Liberation Army flew 302 sorties over the unofficial barrier, “all coming after [Pelosi’s] visit,” as Japan Times reported.
For years, Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu has been sanctioned by Washington over his role in China’s purchases of Russian military equipment. As a result of the White House’s refusal to lift the sanctions, since taking up his post, he has refused to meet with Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin.
Beijing has emphasized the sanctions must be lifted if there are to be diplomatic talks with Li going forward. In June, Chinese embassy spokesperson Liu Pengyu said, “the U.S. side knows the reason for difficulties in its military-to-military relations with China.”
Liu continued, “[the U.S.] actually imposed unilateral sanctions on China…Such obstacles should be removed before any exchange and cooperation could take place.” However, recently U.S. officials have claimed, citing “unspecified intelligence” that Li—who has apparently not made any public appearances since last month—is being investigated for corruption and will be removed from his post.
On the Taiwan issue, per the White House, Sullivan emphasized “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” Wang reiterated Beijing’s position that Taiwan is the “first insurmountable red line of Sino-U.S. relations.”
Although it has kept the peace across the strait for roughly half a century, the White House has gutted the policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding whether the U.S. would intervene militarily in the event that Beijing attempts to reunify with the island of Taiwan by force. Indo-Pacific Command Chief Admiral John Aquilino, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell, and the president himself have repeatedly made clear the policy has been upended and there is a defense commitment with Taipei.
Under the Joe Biden administration, the U.S. and its partners have been “setting the theater” for an upcoming direct war with China. The White House has been busy sailing warships through the Taiwan strait on a nearly monthly basis, deploying at least 200 troops to the island to train local forces for war with the mainland, securing more bases around Taiwan and China, increasing U.S. military access in Pacific island nations, and ramping up deployments of aircraft carrier strike groups, spy planes, and warships to the region and particularly the South China Sea. U.S. adherence to the One-China policy has also been called into question as the U.S. has committed billions in unprecedented military aid to Taipei and is upgrading diplomatic ties with the island, making war more likely.
Additionally, Biden has vastly escalated the economic war with Beijing by signing an executive order banning certain investments in China, expanding sanctions, selectively decoupling with parts of China, and attempting to work with allies to repress China’s economic development as well as cripple the Chinese semiconductor industry.
These latest meetings follow recent visits to Beijing by Blinken, climate envoy John Kerry, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Sullivan met with Wang in Vienna last May following a major diplomatic breakdown after a Chinese weather balloon traversed the continental US due to unexpected weather. The balloon was shot down off the coast of South Carolina by an American F-22.
Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping could meet in November, for the first time in a year, at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco. During the two leaders’ meeting last year in Bali, Xi emphatically declared Taiwan is “the first red line that must not be crossed.”
Blinken, or another top U.S. official, may meet with Wang or possibly Chinese Vice President Han Zheng this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
This article was originally featured at Antiwar.com and is republished with permission.