U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s upcoming trip to Beijing does not mean the United States is heading toward a substantial change in its relationship with the People’s Republic of China, according to U.S. analysts.
Blinken would be the first top U.S. diplomat to visit Beijing since 2018.
Meanwhile, officials from the two countries are preparing for another in-person and pull-aside meeting between their leaders this year, according to a U.S. official who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity.
But expectations are low that Blinken’s meetings with senior PRC leaders would result in large deliverables or reset the fraught relationship between the two countries.
“I don’t think there should be many expectations that we’re going to see anything significant breakthroughs for the trip,” said Jude Blanchette, the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
“I also don’t think that’s a bad thing, given how far the relationship has deteriorated over the last five years,” Blanchette told reporters during a telephone briefing on Monday evening.
This month, Blinken told an audience at University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics that open lines of communication can put guardrails on U.S.-China ties amid rising tensions, adding temperature has been lowered after then-Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August of 2022.
President Joe Biden last met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the margins of the G-20 Summit in Bali last November.
India will host this year’s G-20 Summit in New Delhi from September 9-10. The U.S. will host this year’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Summit in San Francisco in November.
Russia’s Ukraine invasion
February 24 of this year will mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. The United States said it has been very clear to PRC about the implications of providing security and material support to Russia’s war against Ukraine.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned a Chinese company — Changsha Tianyi Space Science and Technology Research Institute Co. LTD, also known as Spacety China — for providing satellite imagery of Ukraine to support the Kremlin-linked mercenary Wagner Group’s combat operations for Russia.
Spacety China’s Luxembourg-based subsidiary also was sanctioned.
U.S. officials and China watchers have said Russia’s war on Ukraine would be on the agenda during Blinken’s meetings in Beijing.
“The debate over China’s policy toward Russia and Ukraine within China is one of the most contentious issues that I encountered when I was there,” said Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser and Trustee Chair in Chinese Business and Economics at CSIS, who spent six weeks in China last fall. “A lot of people inside China in the expert community think that the Chinese made a strategic blunder.”
But in public, PRC officials stick with Beijing’s policy position and narrative.
“The U.S. is the one who started the Ukraine crisis and the biggest factor fueling it,” said Mao Ning, a spokesperson from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.
The Beijing government has suspended all 10-year multiple entry visas for Americans issued before March 26, 2020, when Beijing stopped issuing visas because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This runs counter to a reciprocal agreement that China made with former President Barack Obama’s administration, according to Dennis Wilder, professor of Asian Studies at Georgetown University. Wilder served from 2009 to 2015 as senior editor of the U.S. president’s Daily Brief.
Wilder told VOA that Blinken likely will press PRC officials to have the suspension lifted because it affects many Chinese Americans, as well as business and educational exchanges.
While Americans can apply for new PRC visas, the extensive private information required in the visa application could be used against applicants or to pressure overseas dissent, said experts.
The current PRC visa application requires private information of applicants’ spouse, parents (even deceased) and children, such as their date of birth, country of birth, nationality, address and occupation. It also asks if applicants’ parents are in China.
In comparison, information of an applicant’s family members is optional in the previous four-page visa form.
There also is additional requirement for visa applicants who were born in Taiwan or Hong Kong to provide documents with their original names in Chinese characters, such as for their birth certificates.
PRC authorities are “looking for vulnerabilities” of overseas Chinese Americans, because such information can be used as a leverage to pressure applicants’ families living in China, said Wilder, citing examples of several Chinese American reporters who left the mainland China because of this type of pressures.
“I would be worried filling out all that information,” Bonny Lin, director of China Power Project at CSIS, told VOA.
“It would not be uncharacteristic of what we’ve seen in terms of the overall trend in China, in which China wants to have better control and increased surveillance on all activities within its border,” she said.
Asked if such private information provided by U.S. officials traveling to China can be used as a form of political intelligence, Lin agreed.
“Definitely yes, because they are collecting that information for use,” she said.
For PRC nationals applying for U.S. non-immigrant visas, while applicants are required to provide their family information, the requirement is not as extensive. Also, the U.S. does not ask for specific and private information about visa applicants’ children.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson declined to provide comments to VOA.