US, Chinese diplomats hold second meeting amid rising tensions over hacking allegations
In a bid to manage escalating tensions triggered by alleged Chinese hacking, top diplomats from the United States and China are set to hold their second meeting in as many months on Thursday in Jakarta. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top foreign policy official, Wang Yi, will convene on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) talks taking place in the Indonesian capital.
Despite Microsoft’s recent revelation of Chinese hackers breaching US government email accounts, including those of the State Department, the meeting is moving forward. This gathering follows Blinken’s visit to Beijing last month, marking the first trip by a US secretary of state to China in nearly five years. During his visit, Blinken met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Wang Yi, and Foreign Minister Qin Gang.
Representing China at the Jakarta talks among foreign ministers is Wang Yi, who leads the foreign affairs commission of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, as Qin Gang is currently ill, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. Blinken’s visit to China kick-started a flurry of diplomatic activities, with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently visiting Beijing and a forthcoming trip by climate envoy John Kerry.
However, the United States has yet to achieve its primary objective of resuming dialogue with the Chinese military, a crucial step in preventing worst-case scenarios. Over the past few years, tensions between the world’s two largest economies have soared due to various issues, including China’s growing assertiveness in the region and extensive restrictions imposed by the US on the export of advanced semiconductors.
US officials have expressed concerns that China may be preparing plans to invade Taiwan, a self-governing democracy claimed by China. The United States aims to maintain the status quo that has existed, albeit uneasily, for nearly five decades.
Neither the United States nor China is predicting breakthroughs from the renewed diplomacy. However, both nations emphasize the importance of preventing disagreements from escalating into outright conflict. Blinken, in particular, adopted a more optimistic tone regarding China following his visit to Beijing, avoiding the Cold War-like rhetoric of long-term global confrontation with the rising Asian power prevalent during the previous Trump administration.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Blinken stated, “At least in the near term, maybe even in the lifetimes of most people in this room, I don’t think (there is) a clear finish line… This is more about getting to a place where we have peaceful and maybe somewhat more productive coexistence between us.”
Nonetheless, incidents continue to overshadow the relationship between the two countries. Microsoft recently revealed that a Chinese hacking group had gained access to nearly 25 organizations for espionage purposes. While the State Department detected “anomalous activity,” it refrained from publicly blaming China, stating that an investigation is underway.
Blinken’s initial plan to visit Beijing in February was canceled after Washington detected a Chinese espionage balloon over the mainland United States.
In addition to the hacking concerns, the South China Sea is expected to be a prominent topic of discussion at the ASEAN talks in Jakarta. Both the United States and China will participate in an 18-nation East Asia Summit with foreign ministers on Friday. China claims a significant portion of the strategic waterway, which has led to disputes with several ASEAN members regarding overlapping territorial claims.
Ahead of the talks on Thursday morning, Wang Yi addressed ASEAN ministers, as did Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two diplomats will meet in the same room on Friday for the East Asia Summit meeting, marking their first encounter since a brief March meeting in India. However, no bilateral talks are expected between them due to Russia’s widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine.
ASEAN will also engage in a joint meeting with the foreign ministers of China, Japan, and South Korea. This dialogue has been in place since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The ongoing crisis in coup-racked Myanmar, which has caused divisions among ASEAN members, will also be a topic of discussion.
According to Teuku Rezasyah, an international relations expert at Padjadjaran University, Japan and South Korea have an interest in preventing Myanmar from aligning with China’s influence. Thailand’s foreign minister revealed that he met with ousted Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week, and Bangkok has sought engagement with Myanmar’s ruling junta, drawing criticism for potentially undermining ASEAN efforts.
A joint ASEAN communique, initially expected on Wednesday, is still being finalized and is set to be released on Thursday following the bloc’s two-day ministerial meeting earlier this week.