NEW YORK — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterpart on Friday that the maintenance of peace and stability over Taiwan was vitally important, as the two met with tensions high over the Chinese-claimed island.
Taiwan was the focus of the 90-minute, “direct and honest” talks between Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official told reporters.
“For our part, the secretary made crystal clear that, in accordance with our long-standing one-China policy, which again has not changed, the maintenance of peace and stability across the Strait is absolutely, vitally important,” the official said.
Tensions over Taiwan have soared after a visit there in August by U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi – which was followed by large-scale Chinese military drills – as well as a pledge by U.S. President Joe Biden to defend the self-governed island.
Biden’s statement was his most explicit to date about committing U.S. troops to the defend the island. It was also the latest instance of his appearing to go beyond a long-standing U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which does not make it clear whether Washington would respond militarily to an attack on Taiwan.
The White House has insisted its Taiwan policy has not changed, but China said Biden’s remarks sent the wrong signal to those seeking an independent Taiwan.
In a phone call with Biden in July, Chinese leader Xi Jinping warned about Taiwan, saying “those who play with fire will perish by it.”
The State Department had said earlier that Blinken’s meeting with Wang was part of Washington’s ongoing efforts to “maintain open lines of communication and manage competition responsibly,” and the senior official said Blinken had reiterated U.S. openness to “cooperating with China on matters of global concern.”
Blinken also “highlighted the implications” if China were to provide material support to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or engage in wholesale sanctions evasion, the official added.
U.S. officials have in the past said they had seen no evidence of China providing such support.
Blinken “underscored that the United States and China and the international community have an obligation to work to counter the effects of that invasion and also to deter Russia from taking further provocative actions,” the official said.
China sees democratically governed Taiwan as one of its provinces. Beijing has long vowed to bring Taiwan under its control and has not ruled out the use of force to do so.
Taiwan’s government strongly objects to China’s sovereignty claims and says only the island’s 23 million people can decide its future.
‘DEVASTATE OUR BILATERAL TIES’
Blinken’s meeting with Wang was preceded by one between the foreign ministers of the Quad grouping of Australia, India, Japan and the United States, which issued a statement, referring to the Indo-Pacific, saying that “we strongly oppose any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo or increase tensions in the region.”
The official who briefed on Friday said that since Pelosi’s visit “China has taken a number of provocative steps that have by design acted to change the status quo.”
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will discuss Taiwan security during bilateral meetings with the leaders of key U.S. allies Japan and South Korea when she visits their two countries next week, another senior administration official said on Friday.
Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama, said the fact Blinken and Wang had met was important after the turbulence prompted by Pelosi’s visit, and hopefully some progress would have been made towards arranging a meeting between Xi and Biden on the sidelines of the G-20 in Bali in November, which would be their first in-person as leaders.
“Wang and Blinken’s decision to meet in New York does not guarantee the November summit will go smoothly or that it will even occur. But had they been unable to meet, it would have meant the prospects for a summit in November were poor,” said Russel, who is now with the Asia Society.
In a speech to the Asia Society in New York on Thursday, Wang said the Taiwan question was growing into the biggest risk in China-U.S. relations.
“Should it be mishandled, it is most likely to devastate our bilateral ties,” Wang said, according to a transcript from China’s Embassy in Washington.
Likewise, the decades-old U.S. law outlining Washington’s unofficial relations with Taiwan – which Beijing considers null – makes clear that Washington’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1979 “rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.”
Earlier in the week, Wang met former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, 99, the architect of U.S. relations with Communist China, and said a “peaceful reunification” with Taiwan was China’s aspiration.
However, Wang said the possibility of a peaceful resolution was diminished by ever more “rampant” Taiwanese independence sentiment and he invoked a Chinese proverb: “It is better to lose a thousand soldiers than an inch of territory.” (Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Simon Lewis; Editing by Mary Milliken, Jonathan Oatis and Sandra Maler)