WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold a rare meeting with China’s foreign minister seeking to contain tensions, but will shun his Russian counterpart at a conference in Bali this week, officials said Thursday.
Blinken will arrive Thursday in the Indonesian resort island for talks of foreign ministers of the Group of 20, the club of major economies that still includes Russia – despite US-led efforts to isolate Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.
The State Department said Blinken will meet for the first time since October with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, one of a string of recent meetings between the world’s two largest economic powers amid high tensions on issues including Taiwan.
“I expect that in the course of that meeting that we will be able to discuss having guardrails, so to speak, on the relationship so that our competition does not spill over into miscalculation or confrontation,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the top US diplomat for East Asia.
“The United States also remains committed to exploring areas of potential cooperation where our interests require,” he told reporters.
The meeting comes as the White House expects a new conversation in the coming weeks between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has not traveled internationally since the Covid-19 pandemic.
In contrast to the effort to stabilize relations with China, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken would not meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Blinken last saw Lavrov in January in Geneva, where the top US diplomat warned Russia of massive consequences if it went ahead and invaded Ukraine.
It did so on February 24.
“We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them,” Price said.
“But the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine.”
Price declined to comment on the “choreography” in Bali or whether Blinken would walk out of any wider meetings involving Lavrov, a veteran diplomat known for his skill in stealing the show.
“We expect the secretary to be a full and active participant while also staying true to another overriding objective and that is the fact that it cannot be business as usual with the Russian Federation,” Price said.
Walking a tight-rope as G20 host, Indonesia has not rescinded invitations to Russia, with President Vladimir Putin saying he will attend the summit in November – but it has also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
More talks with China
Biden last spoke by telephone with Xi in March to discuss Ukraine, with the United States condemning Beijing’s support for Russia but seeing little sign of material support for the invasion.
US concerns have also been growing about Taiwan, with Biden vowing to defend the island if China invades the self-governing democracy that it views as its territory.
Talks have picked up since last month, with Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan – who joined Blinken in a confrontational initial sit-down with Chinese counterparts in Alaska in March 2021 – meeting in Luxembourg with senior official Yang Jiechi and the two nations’ defense chiefs speaking on the sidelines of a conference in Singapore.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also spoke Monday with her Chinese counterpart, Vice Premier Liu He, as Biden considers easing tariffs imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump – a step that may help tame soaring and politically damaging US inflation.
Blinken will travel from Bali to US ally Thailand for a visit canceled last year after an outbreak of Covid in the US delegation.
Officials said Blinken would hold talks in Thailand on supporting steps to restore democracy in neighboring Myanmar where the military last year toppled the civilian government.