The United States plans to more fully outline its policy toward China ahead of a series of high-profile meetings with Asian leaders, and the first in-person meeting between US and Chinese defense chiefs in June.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was expected to make a major policy speech this week outlining the administration’s approach to relations with China. The speech was postponed after the secretary tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
The US’s China policy likely will be a part of the US-ASEAN summit next week in Washington, as well as the Quad later summit this month in Tokyo, where President Joe Biden will meet with counterparts from Australia, India and Japan.
President Biden has emphasized that Washington and Beijing need to establish managing “guardrails” to avoid unintended conflicts while great power competition with China.
Those are expected to be a feature of talks between defense chiefs from the United States and China during the so-called Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, a high-level Asia security summit.
Keeping military communications open
This year’s annual Shangri-La Dialogue will be held from June 10–12. It was last held in 2019 and canceled in consecutive years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee on that he hoped the meeting with China’s Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe can “promote security and stability in the region.”
“We both recognize the importance of a dialogue and maintaining open channels,” said Austin. “I look forward to again, engaging him in the future — in the not-too-distant future.”
This would be their first in-person meeting since President Biden took office. Austin and Wei spoke over the phone on April 20. The two sides provided different accounts of the conversation afterward.
Some experts said while it is significant that both the US and China are “demonstrating to the region that there are lines of communication,” the security gathering itself cannot solve longstanding problems between the two countries.
“The two sides would have the appearance of being cordial and professional but the meeting itself would be likely reading scripts,” said Drew Thompson, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.
Improving US competitiveness with China
State Department Counselor Derek Chollet told VOA in a recent interview that elements of the US-China relationship are “conflictual,” “competitive,” with areas on which the countries fundamentally disagree. He said the space for cooperation between the US and China is “dwindling” after Russia’s war on Ukraine.
This week, the US Senate passed the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021. If signed into law, the bill would pay for billions to support semiconductor manufacturing and enhance the US capability to compete with Chinese technology.
Secretary of State Blinken’s China speech is expected to underscore the government’s plan to invest more in US strategic interests, such as high-tech products like semiconductors, as part of a broader push to improve US competitiveness with China.