Home / Opinion / Views /  Mint Explainer: What came out of the Blinken-Wang Yi meeting?

Amid much anticipation and tension, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi met in Germany on Saturday. The meeting was in the aftermath of the bizarre Chinese spy balloon saga, which derailed an expected Sino-American push to lower tensions. Mint breaks down what came out of the Blinken-Wang Yi meeting.

On February 18, Blinken and Wang met on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, an annual think-tank shindig that attracts the Western world’s top politicians, bureaucrats and thinkers.

The meeting took place just weeks after the US shot down a Chinese surveillance balloon that had found its way into American airspace. While China maintains that the balloon was blown towards the US by winds, Washington believes it was steered to America to gather intelligence and surveil sensitive military establishments.

The spy-balloon saga generated considerable ill-will between both sides. In Washington, politicians railed against China’s “brazen intelligence operation" while Beijing, which initially adopted a conciliatory stance, hardened its tone by calling the American reaction “hysterical".

The most immediate consequence of the balloon saga was the cancellation of Secretary Blinken’s visit to China. Both sides had planned the visit after presidents Biden and Xi agreed to stabilise bilateral ties during the Indonesia G20 Summit.

The Blinken-Wang meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference was something of a consolation prize. Blinken minced no words. “The secretary directly spoke to the unacceptable violation of US sovereignty and international law by the PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon in US territorial airspace, underscoring that this irresponsible act must never again occur," according to a readout of the meeting released by the US State Department.

Blinken also touched on China’s support for Russia in the Ukraine war. “On Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, the secretary warned about the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia or assistance with systemic sanctions evasion," the State Department added.

Blinken also raised concerns over Taiwan and North Korea. Despite his more hawkish stance during discussions, Blinken “reiterated President Biden’s statements that the United States will compete and will unapologetically stand up for our values and interests, but that we do not want conflict with the PRC and are not looking for a new Cold War".

China’s readout of the meeting shows how difficult a rapprochement will be between the two squabbling parties. Wang Yi “set forth China’s strong position on the so-called ‘balloon incident’ and pointed out that what the US side had done was apparently an abuse of the use of force and a violation of customary international practice and the International Civil Aviation Covenant. China deplores it and strongly protests it," stated a readout by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

While Blinken reiterated America’s desire to avoid conflict with China, Beijing’s tone was altogether different. “If the US side continues to fuss over, dramatise and escalate the unintended and isolated incident, it should not expect the Chinese side to flinch. The US side should be prepared to bear all consequences arising from an escalation," China’s Foreign Ministry said.

If a rapprochement between both powers was the aim, it isn’t entirely clear that the goal was achieved. Rather, the meeting simply underscored the vast chasm that still separates Washington and Beijing.

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