Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to travel to China for high-level talks in the coming weeks, in what would be his first trip to the country since tensions flared between Washington and Beijing earlier this year.
Details of the visit are still being finalized, but planning is underway for Blinken to make the trip this month, three sources familiar with the matter told CBS News on Tuesday.
Blinken was set to visit China and meet with President Xi Jinping in February, but the trip wasfollowing the U.S. military shootdown of a off the coast of South Carolina after it drifted across the country. Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesman, said Tuesday that he had "no travel for the Secretary to announce," but pointed to previous statements that Blinken's trip to China would be rescheduled "when conditions allow."
"Our viewpoint is that there is no substitute for in-person meetings or engagements, whether they be in Washington in Beijing, to carry forward our discussions," Patel said at a State Department press briefing Tuesday, "but I don't have anything else to offer on his travels."
The trip would come after a series of meetings between U.S. officials and their Chinese counterparts in recent weeks. It would also take place against the backdrop of a pair of recent military interactions that the U.S. has viewed as provocative.
On Saturday, a Chinese warship carried out what the U.S. called an "" maneuver in the Taiwan Strait, cutting sharply across the path of an American destroyer and forcing the U.S. vessel to slow down to avoid a collision. The U.S. also accused a Chinese fighter jet of performing an " " by flying directly in front of an American spy plane in late May over the South China Sea.
Bloomberg first reported the new planning details for Blinken's trip. News of its likely rescheduling comes on the heels of meetings this week between Chinese and senior U.S. officials in Beijing, which the State Department described in a readout as "candid and productive."
At the White House on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to provide specifics about Blinken's travels, but said the trip by U.S. officials to Beijing this week was meant to "make sure the lines of communication remain open and to talk about the potential for future visits, higher level visits."
"They felt that they had good, useful conversations," Kirby said. "I think you'll see us speak to future visits here in the near future."
At the G-7 summit in Japan last month, President Biden predicted the chill in U.S.-China relations would begin to "thaw very shortly," and he has repeatedly mentioned that he intends to speak with Xi, though no dates for any such meeting or call have been announced.
In May, CIA Director William Burns, becoming the most senior U.S. official to visit China since Blinken's trip was canceled. A U.S. official told CBS News that Burns "met with Chinese intelligence counterparts and emphasized the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels."
Burns' trip was among a growing list of carefully orchestrated interactions the Biden administration has arranged since the balloon incident.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met his counterpart, Defense Minister Li Shangfu, at an annual international defense summit in Singapore last week. A Pentagon spokesman said the two "spoke briefly" and shook hands, but there was no "substantive exchange." The interaction took place after the Chinese rejected a meeting between the two, noting Li has been under U.S. sanctions since 2018.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan met with China's top foreign policy official, Wang Yi, in Vienna last month for what the White House described as "candid, substantive, and constructive discussions."
Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao also met with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in Washington and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in Detroit late last month.
Eleanor Watson contributed reporting.
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