Seeking ‘guardrails’ in tense ties, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to visit China

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R Sherman will travel to China this weekend as part of the country’s ongoing effort to hold candid exchanges with Chinese officials to responsibly manage the “incredibly consequential bilateral relationship”.

The trip is going ahead despite near-daily new rifts between the two powers, including on human rights and cybersecurity, with both sides saying they at least want to try to bring more stability in a relationship often described as the most consequential to the world.

It could help set the stage for further exchanges and a potential meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this year, possibly on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Italy in late October.

During Sherman’s visit, she will discuss areas where the US has serious concerns about Chinese actions, as well as areas where their interests align, an official release said.

Sherman, who will meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Xie Feng, a top China-US relations envoy, hopes to show Beijing “what responsible and healthy competition looks like,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“We welcome that stiff competition, but we also want to make sure that the playing field is level and, importantly, that competition doesn’t veer into conflict. We want to make sure that this is a relationship that has guardrails,” Price said.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said they welcomed the chance for “consultation” over a range of issues but warned Sherman that attempts to discuss “China’s internal affairs” from Xinjiang and Taiwan would fall flat.

“China will make clear to the US its principled stand pertaining to developments in Sino-US relations and its firm attitude on safeguarding its own sovereignty, security and development interests,” Zhao told reporters.

The July 25-26 trip will not have the trappings of a full-fledged official visit. Sherman will not go to Beijing, but instead spend two days starting Sunday in Tianjin, a northeastern port city.

John Kerry, the former secretary of state turned US climate envoy, is the only other senior official from the Biden administration to have visited China, as the world’s two largest emitters pledged to work together on the planetary crisis, despite their differences.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, met in March in Alaska with Wang and top official Yang Jiechi in a visibly tense meeting in which the Chinese side berated the United States in front of the cameras.

(With inputs from agencies)

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