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The state department isn't expecting diplomatic breakthroughs on Blinken's China trip

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to China this weekend for some high-stakes diplomacy. Relations between the two largest economies have been sinking for years, and the Biden administration says it wants to put a stop to that. But State Department officials aren't raising expectations for any major breakthrough, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The last time Secretary Blinken planned to go to Beijing was in February, but a Chinese spy balloon was slowly drifting across the United States. The secretary called off his trip, and the balloon was shot down. It was a dramatic reminder of the rising tensions between the U.S. and China. The top U.S. diplomat for the region, Daniel Kritenbrink, has been working hard behind the scenes to get that visit back on track.

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DANIEL KRITENBRINK: And in the course of those discussions, both sides have indicated a shared interest in making sure that we have communication channels open and that we do everything possible to reduce the risk of miscalculation.

KELEMEN: In a call with reporters, he downplayed the possibility of any real breakthrough in Secretary Blinken's meetings in Beijing on Sunday and Monday. Kritenbrink says it would be wise not to expect any real deliverables.

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KRITENBRINK: I do think we need to be realistic. We're not going to Beijing with the intent of having some sort of breakthrough or transformation in the way that we deal with one another. We're coming to Beijing with a realistic, confident approach and a sincere desire to manage our competition in the most responsible way possible.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken spoke about that with his Chinese counterpart, Qing Gang, before both sides announced the dates of the trip. China says its top diplomat offered a pointed message to Blinken. Here's how the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, described the call. He was speaking through an interpreter.

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WANG WENBIN: (Through interpreter) He stressed that the U.S. need to show respect, stop meddling in China's internal affairs and stop harming China's sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition.

KELEMEN: China says Blinken must also respect the country's core concerns. That includes Taiwan. Biden administration officials say Blinken will be talking about all the U.S. concerns, including human rights and threats against Taiwan. A top White House official on Asia, Kurt Campbell, spoke to reporters today while traveling from India to Japan. It's part of his effort to build up alliances to help in this competition with China.

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KURT CAMPBELL: As the competition continues, the PRC will take provocative steps from the Taiwan Strait to Cuba, and we will push back.

KELEMEN: The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a Chinese listening post in Cuba. The Biden administration says that base dates back to the Trump era and insists that the U.S. is doing more now to counter China's global military and intelligence efforts.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.