Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang said the summit's “top priority” was to stabilize relations in order to “avoid a downward spiral, and prevent accidents between China and the United States.” File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo
May 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. ambassador to China met with China's foreign minister Monday in the first high-level sit-down between Washington and Beijing since the U.S. military shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon in February.
American ambassador Nicholas Burns wrote on Twitter that the he and Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang "discussed challenges in the U.S.-China relationship and the necessity of stabilizing ties and expanding high-level communication."
Qin said the summit's "top priority" was to stabilize relations in order to "avoid a downward spiral, and prevent accidents between China and the United States."
During the meeting, Qin reportedly blamed Washington for allowing relations to break down after U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November, and pledged to mend ties that had gone sour due to tensions over Taiwan, trade, and Beijing's deepening ties with Russia amid the war in Ukraine.
Qin also noted that "a series of erroneous words and deeds" by the United States had served to undermine "the hard-won positive momentum of Sino-U.S. relations," according to Chinese media.
He called on Washington to "reflect deeply" on ways to put diplomacy "back on track" by resolving longstanding issues such as Taiwan, where China's military conducted simulated strikes on key island targets in April as a U.S. Navy warship cruised the region.
The meeting was tepid compared to its inflammatory lead-up as Xi and other Chinese leaders have lashed out at the U.S. while embracing its allies in an effort to sell a Ukraine peace plan that has been largely dismissed as being too soft on Russia.
In another diplomatic setback last month, a meeting between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen infuriated Beijing as Tsai's visit to Washington was the first by a Taiwanese leader since China established relations with the United States more than four decades ago.
Previously, during his first news conference as China's foreign minister back in March, Qin suggested there would be an inevitable conflict between the superpowers unless Washington changed its stance toward China.
Meanwhile, Beijing has been making increasingly aggressive claims to Taiwan with Qin calling the island key to resolving the rift, saying Washington's continued military support of the democratic territory had become the most serious threat to Chinese sovereignty.
The tough talk was seen as a remarkable about-face for Qin, who preceded Burns as U.S. ambassador to China and was known to always be measured in his rhetoric.
In remarks before leaving the U.S. in December to become China's foreign minister, however, Qin expressed hope for improved relations during one of his final talks with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
At the time, speculation was also building that China was preparing to help Russia militarily, which prompted White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan to warn Beijing against sending weapons into the conflict.
Although China has remained on the sidelines of the war, Qin previously suggested that Beijing's position could change in light of a shifting geopolitical landscape, saying China's relations with Russia "must move steadily forward."
In February, Blinken also warned the Chinese Foreign Affairs chief that there would be "consequences" if Beijing aided Russia in Ukraine while noting that Chinese officials offered "no apology" for the spy balloon which Biden ordered shot down after it drifted across the United States for several days.
The Chinese insisted the balloon was a civilian vessel that accidentally drifted off course, yet the breach of U.S. airspace led Blinken to cancel a planned visit to Beijing the same week, and infuriated lawmakers on Capitol Hill who called on Biden to take punitive actions against China.
Blinken has since indicated that it was still possible for his diplomatic visit to Beijing to be rescheduled.
Meanwhile, the White House informed federal agencies in late February that they had 30 days to remove TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, from all government devices amid mounting fears that U.S. secrets may end up in the hands of the Chinese via the social media platform.
Scrutiny has also reached a groundswell on Capitol Hill as several lawmakers have introduced bills that would limit Chinese influence and technology in America.
In a defiant speech to open his third term in March, Xi vowed to strengthen his military and take steps toward "reunification" with Taiwan while lashing out at "bullying foreign powers" that were working to stifle the Chinese economy and exert more influence throughout Asia.