U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, right, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, Sunday, June 18, 2023. (Leah Millis/Pool Photo via AP)

By MATTHEW LEE AP Diplomatic Writer

BEIJING (AP) — The United States and China have failed to overcome their most serious disagreements but were able to discuss them in a potentially constructive way and have agreed to continue talks, U.S. and Chinese officials said Sunday.

U.S. officials said Secretary of State Antony Blinken was able during a nearly 6-hour meeting to secure a visit to Washington by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. But both sides said advancement on the issues that divide them remains a work in progress while the Chinese foreign ministry said “the China-U.S. relationship is at the lowest point since its establishment.”

China confirmed that Qin had accepted the invitation at a “mutually convenient time” but no date was set.

The State Department said that Blinken had stressed “the importance of diplomacy and maintaining open channels of communication across the full range of issues to reduce the risk of misperception and miscalculation.”

The Chinese, meanwhile, restated their position that the current state of relations “does not serve the fundamental interests of the two peoples or meet the shared expectations of the international community,” according to the foreign ministry.

Blinken, the highest-level American official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office, will have more senior level contacts with the Chinese on Monday, including potentially with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Despite Blinken’s presence in the Chinese capital, the prospects for any significant breakthrough on the most vexing issues facing the planet’s two largest economies was slim.

And neither side showed any inclination to back down on their entrenched positions.

Blinken’s trip followed his postponement of plans to visit China in February after the shootdown of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the U.S.

The talks could pave the way for a meeting in the coming months between Biden and Xi. Biden said Saturday that he hoped to be able to meet with Xi in the coming months to take up the plethora of differences that divide them.

That long list incudes disagreements ranging from trade to Taiwan, human rights conditions in China and Hong Kong to Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In his meetings on Sunday, Blinken also pressed the Chinese to release detained American citizens and to take steps to curb the production and export of fentanyl precursors that are fueling the opioid crisis in the United States.

Blinken “made clear that the United States will always stand up for the interests and values of the American people and work with its allies and partners to advance our vision for a world that is free, open, and upholds the international rules-based order,” the State Department said.

The Chinese foreign ministry countered in its statement that “China hopes that the U.S. will adopt an objective and rational perception of China, work with China in the same direction, uphold the political foundation of China-U.S. relations, and handle unexpected and sporadic events in a calm, professional and rational manner.”

Shortly before leaving Washington, Blinken emphasized the importance of the U.S. and China establishing and maintaining better lines of communication.

Biden and Xi had made commitments to improve communications “precisely so that we can make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible to avoid possible misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Blinken said Friday.

Xi offered a hint of a possible willingness to reduce tensions, saying in a meeting with Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates on Friday that the United States and China can cooperate to “benefit our two countries.”

Since the cancellation of Blinken’s trip in February, there have been some high-level engagements. CIA chief William Burns traveled to China in May, while China’s commerce minister traveled to the U.S. And Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Wang Yi in Vienna in May.

But those have been punctuated by bursts of angry rhetoric from both sides over the Taiwan Strait, their broader intentions in the Indo-Pacific, China’s refusal to condemn Russia for its war against Ukraine, and U.S. allegations from Washington that Beijing is attempting to boost its worldwide surveillance capabilities, including in Cuba.

And, earlier this month, China’s defense minister rebuffed a request from U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for a meeting on the sidelines of a security symposium in Singapore, a sign of continuing discontent.

Underscoring the difficulties, China rejected a report by a U.S. security firm, that blamed Chinese-linked hackers for attacks on hundreds of public agencies, schools and other targets around the world, as “far-fetched and unprofessional”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson repeated accusations that Washington carries out hacking attacks and complained the cybersecurity industry rarely reports on them.

Meanwhile, the national security advisers of the United States, Japan and the Philippines held their first joint talks Friday and agreed to strengthen their defense cooperation, in part to counter China’s growing influence and ambitions.

This coincides with the Biden administration inking an agreement with Australia and Britain to provide the first with nuclear-powered submarines, with China moving rapidly to expand its diplomatic presence, especially in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific island nations, where it has opened or has plans to open at least five new embassies over the next year.

The agreement is part of an 18-month-old nuclear partnership given the acronym AUKUS — for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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