Diplomatic Talks Resume between Washington and Beijing

In the highest-level meeting with U.S. officials in months, State Councilor Wang Yi met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan May 10-11 in Vienna for ten hours of talks. Among the crucial issues raised were Taiwan and Ukraine. This is interpreted as a sign that the channels of communication are now being re-opened, following the shoot-down of a Chinese weather balloon that had strayed over U.S. territory in early February (cf. SAS 6,7/23).

The White House statement on the meetings in the Austrian capital notes that “The two sides had candid, substantive, and constructive discussions on key issues….”. Unusually enough, the Chinese communique used the same adjectives to describe the talks.

According to a senior Chinese official cited in the May 12 Global Times, Wang Yi comprehensively laid out China’s position on the Taiwan issue, emphasizing that it is at the center of China’s core interests, the foundation of the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and the first “red line” that cannot be crossed. The U.S. side reportedly confirmed that Washington’s one-China policy has not changed and that it does not support “Taiwan independence,” “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”.

On Ukraine, Wang emphasized that China is not a party to the crisis there, is actively promoting peace talks, and has been urging all parties not to add fuel to the fire. The U.S. readout only mentions that the Ukraine crisis was discussed.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg claimed that his government had facilitated the Sullivan-Wang Yi meeting, saying that “Vienna will continue to be available as a place for dialogue for meetings of this kind also in the future”. Whatever the motivations of the Biden Administration may be, one can safely say that dialogue is better than a complete breakdown in diplomatic talks, as is now occurring with Russia. Perhaps Washington will come to realize that it is unwise to directly confront the world’s second largest economy (and the most productive) on all fronts at once, especially when the non-Western world is reaping great benefits from China’s economic and trade policy.

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