The US deputy secretary of state will visit China on Sunday after Washington and Beijing resolved a stand-off that had threatened to derail the first high-level meeting between the sides since senior officials met in Alaska in March.
Wendy Sherman will fly to Tianjin for a two-day visit that will include talks with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, according to US officials. She will be the most senior Biden official to visit China, on a trip that will take place four months after the first meeting between the countries erupted in an acrimonious public spat.
The veteran diplomat had been widely expected to visit China on the last leg of an Asia tour that will include stops in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.
But the state department did not list China on her original itinerary after Beijing refused to grant a meeting with Wang, offering instead a less senior official, which the US interpreted as a snub.
“They have confirmed an in-person meeting with Wang Yi,” said a US official. “We would not have agreed to a visit . . . unless we were convinced we would have opportunities for substantive and constructive talks.”
The meeting will come at a difficult juncture in US-China relations, as Joe Biden strikes a tough stance over issues including Beijing’s crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the persecution of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and military activities around Taiwan. Washington this week accused China’s Ministry of State Security, its intelligence agency, of enlisting criminal gangs to conduct cyber attacks on the US.
A second US official said the Tianjin meeting would follow on the Alaska summit, in which both sides outlined their views on a relationship that has deteriorated after the turbulent years of the Trump administration.
“We believe we need to be able to do things at the same time that maintain communication in order to show the People’s Republic of China what healthy and responsible competition looks like,” said the second US official.
Washington is seeking high-level engagement with both Chinese diplomats and military officials but has been frequently frustrated. Kurt Campbell, the top White House Asia official, recently said that Wang and Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official who was also at the Alaska summit, were “nowhere near within a hundred miles” of President Xi Jinping’s inner circle.
The US did not disclose what Sherman and Wang would discuss. But the goal before the latest protocol kerfuffle was to hold several senor meetings that would pave the way for Biden and Xi to hold discussions at the G20 summit in Italy.
“Given the combination of current strains in the relationship, the recent lull in senior-level interactions and the possibility of a meeting between both leaders at the G20 . . . it makes sense that both sides would be motivated to get past protocol squabbles,” said Ryan Hass, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think-tank and author of Stronger: Adapting America’s China Strategy in an Age of Competitive Interdependence.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter