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In China, Blinken Lays Out America’s Red Lines on Russia, Other Tensions

Leo Timm
Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: May 1, 2024
us secretary of state antony blinken at press conference in beijing china on april 26 2024
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China, April 26, 2024. (Image: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo)

The top U.S. diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, recently made his second visit to China, spending three days pressing the leaders of the communist country on a range of disagreements, chiefly Beijing’s support for Russia and its trade practices. 

From April 24 (Wednesday) to April 26, Blinken traveled to Beijing and Shanghai, meeting with People’s Republic of China (PRC) leader Xi Jinping, foreign minister Wang Yi, and others. 

In an over five-hour talk with Wang in Beijing, Blinken “reiterated our serious concern about the PRC providing components that are powering Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine,” Blinken said at a press conference on April 26.  

“China is the top supplier of machine tools, microelectronics, nitrocellulose, which is critical to making munitions and rocket propellants, and other dual-use items that Moscow is using to ramp up its defense industrial base,” he continued. 

High-level talks between the U.S. and PRC, including a recent phone call between President Joe Biden and Xi and a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders last November when Xi visited the United States, belie persisting tensions between the American administration and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

‘Core U.S. interest’

us secretary of state antony blinken meets chinese leader xi jinping in beijing on april 26 2024
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China, April 26, 2024. (Image: Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS)

Blinken’s visit to China came as he, Biden, and other senior U.S. officials condemned the PRC for massively supplying Russia’s war industry as the Kremlin presses the advance in its two-year-old war on Ukraine. 

At the press conference, Blinken said that he had reiterated in his talks with the Chinese officials America’s opinion that PRC support for Russia violates the “core U.S. interest” of “ensuring the security of Europe. 

“I made clear that if China does not address this problem, we will,” he added.

On April 24, Biden signed into law a $95-billion aid package that contains $61 billion for Ukraine, as well as $8 billion earmarked for Taiwan and other countries in Asia that have disputes with the PRC. Among the bills Biden signed was a law to either ban TikTok or divest it of its Chinese-controlled parent company, ByteDance.

People inspect damage and remove items from their homes following Israeli airstrikes on April 07, 2024 in Khan Yunis, Gaza. (Image: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

The bill also contained over $25 billion for Israel, which is engaging in a controversial bombardment campaign of Gaza, the densely populated Palestinian territory from which Hamas terrorists launched a series of attacks and committed mass slaughters of Israeli civilians last October. 

According to the U.S. State Department readout of Blinken’s China visit, the Secretary said that Washington will “continue to use diplomacy to make progress in areas of difference and areas of cooperation that matter to the American people and the world as part of responsibly managing competition with the PRC.”

The U.S will continue to prevent advanced technologies from getting into the hands of Chinese companies and government organizations, so as to keep them “from being used to undermine our national security and economy,” Blinken said. 

Additionally, Blinken raised concerns about the PRC’s “economic policies and practices that distort trade or threaten our national security and raised concern about the global economic consequences of PRC industrial overcapacity.” 

The U.S and Chinese sides also discussed crises in the Middle East, tensions over Taiwan, the democratically run island that Beijing claims as part of the PRC, and other flashpoints in the Asian region. Blinken also criticized the CCP’s ongoing human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, and elsewhere. 

In addition to these issues, Blinken said in his April 26 press conference that he also brought up issues such as Chinese interference in American elections, its role in the fentanyl supply during his trip. 

“We have seen, generally speaking, evidence of attempts [by the PRC] to influence and arguably interfere [in U.S. elections], and we want to make sure that that’s cut off as quickly as possible,” Blinken said in an April 26 interview with CNN. 

Blinken announced at the press conference that both sides had agreed to hold the first U.S.-PRC talks on artificial intelligence in the coming weeks. “We’ll share our respective views on the risks and safety concerns around advanced AI and how best to manage them,” he said. 

Drifting further apart

According to observers, Blinken’s reiteration of Washington’s “red lines” are unlikely to dissuade Communist China from continuing to back Russia, make major changes to the economic policies that the U.S. takes issue with, or fall in line with the American-led international rules-based order championed by the Biden administration. 

Underscoring the closeness of the Beijing-Moscow relationship, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu met his Chinese counterpart Dong Jun in Kazakhstan on April 26 and said the two countries were working to strengthen their “strategic partnership in the defense sector”.

Newly appointed Chinese defense minister Dong Jun speaks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu on Jan. 31, 2024 by video link. (Image: RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTRY/via Reuters)
Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, in a televised report on Nov. 9, 2022. (Image: Screenshot/Russian Ministry of Defense)

SinoInsider, a New York-based risk consultancy specializing in elite Chinese politics, wrote in an April 29 analysis of the U.S and PRC readouts of Blinken’s trip that the Chinese side’s reaction suggests Beijing is becoming increasingly apprehensive about America’s global agenda. 

In one CCP readout of the Blinken visit, Xi Jinping was reported to have urged Blinken to “honor words with actions rather than say one thing but do another,” and “uphold credibility” in “stabilizing and developing the bilateral relationship in 2024.” 

“This suggests that Beijing believes Washington is going to get tough on China over Russia and other matters, and is preparing to play the victim card” as Sino-U.S. relations worsen in the near future, the SinoInsider analysts wrote. 

Meanwhile, the aim of the CCP is to maintain for as long as possible the illusion of calm relations with the U.S. and its allies, while continuing to remaining “friends and partners” with countries like Russia and Iran, pursue eventual “reunification” with Taiwan, and “gradually expand its hegemony through the building of a ‘community with a shared future for mankind.’” 

But like Blinken’s efforts to dissuade the CCP from continuing its activity that undermines U.S. global interests, Beijing’s attempts at assuaging American concerns are also unlikely to convince the Biden administration that the PRC’s goodwill is sincere. 

“Blinken’s remarks in his press conference in Beijing and comments to CNN suggest that the Biden administration has made clear its red lines to the Xi leadership during Blinken’s China trip and is set on upping the pressure on the PRC,” SinoInsider wrote. 

At the press conference, Blinken did not respond to a question on whether Washington would impose sanctions over China’s support for Russia. 

However, the lack of yielding from either the U.S. or PRC side means “Washington could sanction some smaller Chinese banks and other entities over Russia,” SinoInsider wrote. 

Washington could additionally hike tariffs on various Chinese exports, such as solar panels, batteries, or EVs, and undertake investigations into and impose sanctions for unfair PRC state subsidies in these industries, as well as continue to add restrictions on what high-end technologies Chinese firms are able to purchase from the U.S. and its allies. 

Reuters contributed to this report