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Secretary Blinken and China's Xi Jingping didn't reach agreement on military contact

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and right after their meeting today from Beijing, he joined NPR. He joined Morning Edition to brief us on what went down. He called those talks today candid and constructive. But a notable issue on which they did not reach agreement is resuming military-to-military contact between the two countries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ANTONY BLINKEN: These military-to-military contacts are hugely important if we're going to avoid an unintentional conflict. And that was only reinforced over the last couple of weeks. We saw incidents on the seas and the skies that were really dangerous and, in our judgment, unprofessional. So that's exactly why I've raised it. I don't have any immediate progress to report on that.

KELLY: OK. So no immediate progress to report. Here with me now, NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Hey there.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hi there, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Explain why these military contacts are so important and what else Secretary Blinken had to say about them.

KELEMEN: Yeah, I mean, the one thing he was trying to do on this trip is to make sure that the U.S. competition with China does not veer into conflict. And that's a particular concern around the South China Sea and around Taiwan. He mentioned that there have been some incidents around there. You know, just in recent weeks a Chinese fighter jet came really close to an American surveillance plane in the South China Sea. So Secretary Blinken says the whole world is watching. And he says they're watching what he calls Chinese provocations around Taiwan. Here he is speaking at a news conference at the end of his two days in Beijing.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BLINKEN: The reason that this is a concern for so many countries, not just the United States, is that were there to be a crisis over Taiwan, the likelihood is that that would produce an economic crisis that could affect, quite literally, the entire world. Fifty percent of commercial container traffic goes through the Taiwan Strait every day.

KELEMEN: You know, China says that the Biden administration should stand by its commitments, that it does not support Taiwan's independence and that U.S. alliances are not directed against China. Secretary Blinken says U.S. policy on Taiwan hasn't changed, that the U.S. does not support Taiwan's independence but wants to make sure that this is resolved peacefully and that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself.

KELLY: OK. So that is what Blinken is saying about his talks in Beijing. What is China saying about this visit?

KELEMEN: Well, according to Chinese officials, President Xi Jinping told Blinken that major power competition does not represent the trend of the times. That was one interesting quote from the official Chinese readout. It said that, you know, the planet is big enough for both countries to develop and coexist and that the U.S. needs to respect China and not hurt China's legitimate rights and interests. China often accuses the U.S. of trying to suppress the country's technological development. And as for those military-to-military ties, well, they say, you know, they won't resume as long as the U.S. maintains its unilateral sanctions on China. China's defense minister has actually even been a target of those U.S. sanctions because of arms deals with Russia.

KELLY: Sticking with that point, Secretary Blinken doesn't come home quite yet. He's on his way now to London. He's going to be talking about the war in Ukraine while he's there - a war in which China has presented itself as a possible mediator. What does Blinken have to say about China's diplomatic efforts there and elsewhere around the globe?

KELEMEN: Yeah, so he spoke to Morning Edition about that. You know, China's offering to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And it recently brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And Blinken told NPR that he was in Saudi Arabia recently and talking to a lot of Gulf partners.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

BLINKEN: And what I can report from that is that the United States remains far and away the preferred partner for virtually all of these countries. At the same time, if China takes initiatives that actually help solve problems and advance peace, that's a good thing, and we support it.

KELEMEN: And he said it would be a good thing for Ukraine too, but only if China can help find a durable peace. And that would mean respecting Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. But that's really another area of disagreement between the two. So far, China has refused to condemn Russia's invasion, and Beijing has this kind of no-limits partnership with Moscow.

KELLY: That is our diplomatic correspondent, Michele Kelemen. Thanks, Michele.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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