US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns said Tuesday the United States is “ready to talk” to China, and expressed hope that Beijing would “meet us halfway on this.”
Burns, however, did not give a clear answer about when Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China – which was postponed in February – would be rescheduled.
“Our view is we need better channels between the two governments and deeper channels, and we are ready to talk,” Burns said at an event at the Stimson Center, which he attended virtually.
“We’ve never been shy of talking, and we hope the Chinese will meet us halfway on this,” he said.
Burns reiterated Blinken’s trip to China would be rescheduled “when conditions are appropriate for his visit” adding that the US is ready for “a more broad-based engagement at the cabinet level.”
“(I)t’s hard for me to predict at this at this point when this kind of reengagement will reoccur, but we have never supported an icing of this relationship,” Burns said.
Burns’ comments come after what has been a tumultuous year in relations between Washington and Beijing.
Tensions soared following a visit by former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan and after a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the US, leading Blinken to call off that planned visit to China.
“Access for all of us in the US government, and that includes members of our cabinet, has really ebbed and flowed over the last year,” Burns said Tuesday. “There have been periods of time, I’m thinking now of early summer of last year, where we had a lot of access and a lot of communication back and forth.”
“And then other periods, say just in the immediate wake of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last summer, where the Chinese have shut down channels.”
The ambassador said, however, that after China’s Party Congress, he was able to have “good” meetings with Chinese officials Qin Gang and Wang Yi, and also pointed to President Joe Biden’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Bali, calling it “a very good, productive exchange.”
He said the US has been calling on China to open all of the channels they suspended following Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, noting that the US and China “have not had a productive exchange on the fentanyl issue.” However, climate talks have resumed, Burns said.
Burns also emphasized that “in recent weeks, in the last month or so, there’s been a consistent communication between myself and senior officials in the foreign ministry, my colleagues in the US mission and their counterparts in the foreign ministry here.”
“That’s been a good sign that we’ve been able to pass messages, trade views, talk about difficult issues, sometimes at great length here in Beijing, but you do need a broader relationship than that,” he said.
The ambassador also said the US would like to see China push Russia to end its war in Ukraine and said the conversation between Xi and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “a good first step.”
“It’d be helpful if China pushed Russia to cease bombing of Ukrainian schools, and Ukrainian hospitals, and Ukrainian apartment buildings. We’ve seen a tremendous loss of life just in the last month or two under this vicious Russian aerial assault and drone attacks on Ukrainian civilians,” he continued. “So I think that’s what we would like and I’m sure that’s what the European countries would like, that’s what Ukraine wants from China.”