Blinken Meets Top China Foreign Minister Candidate Before Taiwan Elections

WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is holding one-hour talks with veteran Chinese diplomat Liu Jianchao Friday morning, a day before Taiwan’s presidential and legislative elections — a test for efforts to stabilize tensions between the United States and China.  

Washington has cautioned Beijing against using the elections as a pretext for instability in the Taiwan Strait. 

Liu, who heads the Chinese Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the United States since U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit south of San Francisco on November 15. 

A source familiar with the meeting said that in diplomacy, it is crucial to convey messages directly to China on “the importance of peace and stability in the region ahead of the Taiwan elections, and in light of recent PRC provocations in the South China Sea.” 

This week, the Biden administration announced it would send a high-level unofficial delegation to Taipei after the elections, citing a longstanding precedent. The move is perceived as an effort to preempt a strong reaction from Beijing. 

A Chinese spokesperson said Thursday that Taiwan’s elections are “purely China’s internal affairs” and that China firmly opposes any form of official contact between the United States and Taiwan. 

The winner of Taiwan’s presidential election will be inaugurated May 20. The transition period is seen as sensitive in cross-strait relations. 

Liu is seen as a leading contender to be China’s next foreign minister, according to some media reports and analysts.

It is unusual for the minister of the International Liaison Department, a unit under the Communist Party’s Central Committee, to visit the United States, according to Bonnie Glaser, managing director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Fund. 

“The most likely explanation for this visit, and the reason that he is being received by Blinken, is that Liu is likely to be China’s next foreign minister. The visit provides an opportunity for the U.S. to take his measure in advance of his formal appointment, likely at the upcoming National People’s Congress” in early March, Glaser told VOA. 

Senior U.S. officials attending Friday’s meeting include the State Department’s top diplomat on East Asian and Pacific affairs, Daniel Kritenbrink, and its China coordinator, Mark Lambert.  

Communication between the world’s two largest economies will continue after Taiwan’s elections, as senior U.S. and Chinese officials are to attend next week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Blinken and Chinese Premier Li Qiang will attend the annual economic meetings at the Swiss mountain resort.    

Blinken’s talks with Chinese officials are described as ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication, responsibly manage differences between the two nations and address various issues. These include global and regional security concerns, such as Russia’s war against Ukraine, as well as peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

According to some estimates, about half of all global trade flows through the Taiwan Strait, and its stability is critical to the global economy.

VOA’s Cindy Saine contributed to this report.