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China’s ‘no limits’ deal with Russia likely topic at Blinken-Wang meeting

The secretary of state and Foreign Minister Wang Yi will speak face-to-face as the U.S. seeks to dissuade Beijing from deepening ties with Moscow

Secretary of State Antony Blinken takes part in President Biden's virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the White House in November 2021. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi this week in Bali on the sidelines of a gathering of ministers representing the world’s 20 largest economies, according to senior State Department officials.

Blinken’s meeting with Wang, their first face-to-face since last October, comes as the Biden administration seeks to dissuade Beijing from deepening its ties to Moscow and U.S. officials weigh lifting tariffs on China to ease inflation.

U.S. officials said they hoped the meeting could bring added stability to the U.S.-China relationship as tensions over the fate of Taiwan raise concerns about an unintentional military escalation between the two powers.

“A key goal of the meeting will be to reinforce guardrails on the relationship so that our competition does not spill over into miscalculation or confrontation,” said one of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a meeting prior to its announcement. “I think there’s no substitute for face-to-face diplomacy, and now is the right time.”

Officials said the meeting would focus in part on the war in Ukraine, providing Blinken with a chance to relay U.S. concerns about China’s deepening relationship with Moscow. Beijing has urged an end to the fighting but has not taken part in the global sanctions imposed on Russia following President Vladimir Putin’s Feb. 24 invasion.

Taiwan, wary of China, joins Ukraine’s fight

The State Department official said it would be a “real imperative just to make sure we do an exchange, a very candid exchange, on Russia-Ukraine.” Among other things, Blinken is expected to underscore the Biden administration’s desire that China continue to refrain from providing arms to Russia or helping Moscow evade sanctions.

U.S. and Chinese officials say that Russia has made repeated requests for increased Chinese assistance as its war in Ukraine has begun requiring greater military and economic resources. But Beijing appears unwilling to risk violating Western sanctions and has stopped short of fulfilling all of Russia’s demands, despite the “no limits” partnership heralded by the two nations.

Chinese officials are now looking for ways to assist Moscow without running afoul of sanctions, the officials have said.

The Indonesia gathering represents a challenge for Blinken and other Western officials as they seek to advance a united global agenda on food and energy security while isolating Russia, one of the world’s largest oil producers.

Officials said Blinken was not expected to hold separate talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two men have not met since the invasion.

At a meeting of G-20 finance ministers in Washington in April, Western officials including Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell walked out when the Russian representatives began their remarks.

Presidents Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia said their countries’ friendship had “no limits,” but war with Ukraine is testing their ties. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

The State Department official declined to say whether the U.S. delegation would do the same in Bali, adding that the United States wants to help Indonesia pull off a successful summit. “At the same time, we’ve made absolutely crystal clear to all concerned that the G-20 cannot be conducted in a manner that signals business as usual,” the official said.

The meeting with Wang comes amid disputes within the Biden administration about whether to remove tariffs on China as inflation in the United States soars to 8.6 percent. Yellen has told lawmakers that some of the Trump-era tariffs were strategically questionable and were “paid by Americans, not by the Chinese.”

But U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has voiced a different view to Congress, saying, “The China tariffs are … a significant piece of leverage, and a trade negotiator never walks away from leverage.”

U.S. officials declined to say whether tariffs would be on the agenda this week, but they underscored that the Blinken-Wang meeting would be broad in scope.

“We anticipate this will also be an opportunity to discuss areas where our interests intersect, or cooperation would be in our mutual interest, including on issues like climate change, global health, counternarcotics, and perhaps other areas as well,” the official said.