First US official visits China since Blinken cancellation

WASHINGTON – A US official visited China last week, the State Department confirmed Tuesday, marking a low-key return to dialogue after Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly cancelled a trip nearly two months ago.

Mr Rick Waters, who heads the State Department’s new so-called “China House” that supervises US policy towards Beijing, travelled to Beijing as well as Shanghai and Hong Kong, department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

Mr Waters “met with working-level counterparts” as well as US government employees stationed in China, Mr Patel said.

Mr Patel played down the visit, declining to describe the topics or characterise the results of the discussions.

Mr Blinken had been due to travel to Beijing in early February in the highest-level visit by a US official in nearly five years.

The visit had been set by presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden after talks on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in November in Bali where they agreed that the world’s two largest economies would work to control spiralling tensions.

But Mr Blinken scrapped his visit after the United States said it discovered a Chinese espionage balloon over US soil.

Relations have since deteriorated further with Mr Xi publicly accusing the United States of pursuing “containment, encirclement and suppression of China” and travelling to Moscow to rally behind Russian President Vladimir Putin. AFP

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