Senior US, China diplomats meet as tensions run high over Taiwan

Talks expected to pave way for meeting between leaders of both countries

NEW YORK - Senior diplomats from the United States and China met on Friday with tensions high after an explicit pledge by US President Joe Biden to defend Taiwan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shook hands in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, but did not respond to shouted questions from the media as they sat down for talks.

The US State Department had said earlier that the meeting was part of Washington's ongoing efforts to "maintain open lines of communication and manage competition responsibly".

It was their first encounter since extensive talks in Bali in July, where both sides appeared optimistic about more stability.

One month later in August, however, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, infuriating Beijing. China staged unprecedented military exercises around Taiwan which were seen as a trial run for an invasion of the island.

China regards Taiwan as a renegade province to be reunified, by force if necessary.

In a sign of smoother ties, Mr Wang also met US climate envoy John Kerry in New York, despite China's announcement after Mrs Pelosi's visit that it was curbing cooperation on the climate issue, a key priority for Mr Biden.

Mr Blinken went ahead with the talks despite paring down his schedule following the death of his father on Thursday.

Immediately before seeing Mr Wang, he met his counterparts from Australia, Japan and India, the so-called Quad that Beijing has denounced as an attempt to isolate it.

"Our four countries know very well the significant challenges that we face, as well as the opportunities that are before us, demand more than ever that we work together," Mr Blinken said as the ministers signed an agreement on cooperation in disaster relief.

President Biden said in an interview aired on Sunday that he was ready to intervene militarily if China uses force in Taiwan, once again deviating from decades of US ambiguity.

In a speech before his talks with Mr Blinken, Mr Wang compared the drive for Taiwanese independence to a charging rhinoceros that must be stopped in its tracks, and blamed the US for speeding it along.

"Taiwan independence is like a highly disruptive grey rhino charging towards us that must be stopped resolutely," Mr Wang said in a speech at the Asia Society think-tank in New York.

"We have always worked with the greatest sincerity and effort to pursue peaceful reunification, but we will never tolerate any activity aimed at secession."

China's authorities have used the term "grey rhinos" in the past to refer to highly probable financial hazards that risk being overlooked. They include shadow banking, property bubbles and local government debts.

"The Taiwan question is growing into the biggest risk in China-US relations. Should it be mishandled, it is most likely to devastate bilateral ties," Mr Wang said at the Asia Society.

"Just as the US will not allow Hawaii to be stripped away, China has the right to uphold the unification of the country," he said.

The New York talks are expected to lay the groundwork for a face-to-face meeting between Mr Biden and President Xi Jinping, likely in November in Bali on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of 20 economic powers, or on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

Mr Wang said that both Mr Biden and Mr Xi seek to "make the China-US relationship work" and to "steer clear of conflict and confrontation".

Earlier in the week, Mr Wang met former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the architect of US relations with China, and said the possibility of a peaceful resolution was diminished by ever more "rampant" Taiwanese independence sentiment.

He invoked a Chinese proverb: "It is better to lose a thousand soldiers than an inch of territory."

REUTERS, AFP, BLOOMBERG

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2022, with the headline Senior US, China diplomats meet as tensions run high over Taiwan. Subscribe