US’ Blinken in China to boost diplomatic hand against Beijing

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has embarked on a crucial journey to China, armed with a bolstered diplomatic hand following the Senate’s approval of a foreign aid package. This package, amounting to billions of dollars, is set to provide assistance to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, while also mandating TikTok’s China-based parent company to sell the social media platform. These areas of contention have been at the heart of disputes between Washington and Beijing.

Arriving in Shanghai on Wednesday, Blinken’s visit comes mere hours after the Senate vote on the long-pending legislation. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the bill into law soon, showcasing U.S. commitment to defending its allies and partners. However, the passage of this bill is poised to complicate an already intricate relationship, marked by disagreements over various global and regional issues.

Despite the complexities, Blinken’s trip signifies a willingness from both sides to engage in discussions. This comes on the heels of a recent conversation between Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s visit to China, and a call between the U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs.

Of particular interest to China, the bill allocates $8 billion to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the broader Indo-Pacific region. It also imposes a nine-month deadline for China’s ByteDance to sell TikTok, with a potential three-month extension if a sale is in progress.

China has vehemently opposed U.S. assistance to Taiwan, viewing it as a renegade province, and swiftly denounced the bill as a dangerous provocation. Additionally, China strongly opposes the efforts to force TikTok’s sale.

Furthermore, the bill designates $26 billion in wartime aid to Israel and humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, along with $61 billion for Ukraine to defend itself against Russia’s invasion. The Biden administration has expressed disappointment in China’s response to the conflict in Gaza, citing Chinese support for Russia’s military-industrial sector as enabling Moscow to evade Western sanctions and escalate attacks on Ukraine.

Ahead of Blinken’s meetings in Shanghai and subsequent travel to Beijing, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office criticized the aid to Taipei, asserting that it “seriously violates” U.S. commitments to China. This move, according to the office, sends a wrong signal to Taiwan independence separatist forces and places the self-governing island into a “dangerous situation.”

With China and the United States being major players in the Indo-Pacific, Washington has grown increasingly alarmed by Beijing’s assertiveness in recent years towards Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries. This concern is particularly focused on territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The U.S. has strongly denounced Chinese military exercises targeting Taiwan, a region Beijing regards as a renegade province. China has vowed to reunify Taiwan with the mainland by force if necessary. In response, successive U.S. administrations have ramped up military support and sales for Taiwan, much to China’s displeasure.

A senior State Department official highlighted last week that Blinken would emphasize, both privately and publicly, America’s enduring interest in maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. This, according to the official, is crucial for the region and the world at large.

In the South China Sea, concerns have mounted over provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas. The U.S. and others have expressed objections to what they perceive as Chinese attempts to obstruct legitimate maritime activities by countries like the Philippines and Vietnam in the sea.

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