The US State Department's #2, deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman, will meet Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Tianjin on July 25-26, after her trip to Mongolia. In a short statement on Wednesday, the US State Department said the discussions were part of “ongoing US efforts to hold candid exchanges with PRC officials to advance US interests and values and to responsibly manage the relationship”.
“The deputy secretary will discuss areas where we have serious concerns about PRC actions, as well as areas where our interests align,” it said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
In an earlier statement, Washington said Sherman would go to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia, raising concerns that she would not make a stop in China. Analysts wondered if Sherman's original schedule suggested lingering tensions between the two sides, following the catastrophic summit in Alaska in March.
On Tuesday, the State Department said a trip to China by Sherman remained possible during her current tour of Asia if officials determined that a meeting between Sherman and her Chinese counterparts would be productive.
“We’ve been clear that when it comes to the [People’s Republic of China], we will engage when it’s in our interests to do so, and we do remain interested in doing so in a practical, substantive and direct manner. That certainly remains the case,” department spokesman Ned Price said.
According to SCMP sources, China was planning for Xie Feng, a foreign vice-minister in charge of US affairs, to meet Sherman. Xie was the foreign ministry commissioner in Hong Kong and has also been a foreign ministry “point person” on Xinjiang – two key issues troubling China-US relations. Wang would also receive Sherman but Washington was hoping she could have greater access to President Xi Jinping’s inner circle.
Commenting on the upcoming meeting, Newsquawk notes that a scheduled meeting implies that sides are working towards de-escalating tensions, with some suggesting that such meetings could augur well for a future meeting between President Biden and President Xi. It also comes after the FT reported last week that China had denied the request for US Deputy Secretary of State Sherman to meet with her Chinese counterpart during a proposed visit to the country this week.
The meeting is expected to serve as a precursor for a meeting between Secretary of State Blinken and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the source added. The meeting is reportedly to "touch base and for both sides to get a sense of where the relationship is going" and also comes as tensions remain heightened on several fronts.
The US ramped up its rhetoric on the Xinjiang issue last week when it warned American companies with interests in the area risks breaking US law. Furthermore, the military landscape remains heated. Earlier this week, China said it "drove away" a US warship that trespassed Chinese territory in the South China Sea.
Further, China warned the US of "serious consequences" after the US Air Force delivered "diplomatic mail" to the de facto US embassy in Taipei, with Beijing claiming that the US trespassed its airspace.
The SCMP also notes that over the past week, US President Joe Biden and his administration have taken a number of measures that have angered Chinese officials, including a declaration on Monday, together with Britain and the European Union, that Beijing was behind this year’s cyberespionage attack on a Microsoft Exchange email server, This followed the sanctioning of seven Chinese officials which Washington said were responsible for undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong. Beijing denounced the sanctions and threatened to take strong retaliation.
Meanwhile, the trade deal will likely not be revisited in a meaningful way next week as the trade representatives from both sides are not meeting, as far as the reports go.
Thus, the meeting will be observed with a geopolitical lens, and the tone between the nations will be eyed. SCMP also suggested that this meeting could eventually pave the way for a summit between the two presidents - some have raised the possibility of a Biden-Xi meeting at the October G20 summit in Rome. A joint press conference or statement will be viewed as constructive.