Diminished welcome for U.S. Secretary of State Blinken on arrival in Shanghai

Blinken held discussions with Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Jining on the significance of fair economic competition and ensuring equitable conditions for U.S. workers and businesses active in China.

25th April 2024 – (Shanghai) U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken touched down in Shanghai on 24th April, commencing a three-day diplomatic visit to China. This arrival, however, has stirred discussions concerning the level of reception accorded to him, marking a potential downshift from previous diplomatic greetings.

In June 2023, during his prior visit, Blinken’s reception was already a topic of debate, with significant attention paid to the absence of a red carpet and senior officials at the airport. This detail was highlighted by U.S. media as indicative of a meticulously planned reception—or lack thereof. As a result, when the Director of Shanghai’s Foreign Affairs Office, rather than a higher-ranking official, greeted Blinken this week, it reignited concerns over whether this constituted a further downgrade in diplomatic protocol.

The reception during his last visit was managed by the Director-General of the North American and Oceanian Affairs of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yang Tao. The apparent absence of a higher-ranking official such as a Deputy Foreign Minister was noted as a cool gesture by observers. The recent choice of a municipal official for the welcoming duties in Shanghai has only served to amplify these observations.

Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of Global Times, noted on the social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter) that the absence of the traditional red carpet was particularly conspicuous. This element of the reception—or its omission—has often been symbolic of the warmth of the welcome or the lack thereof in diplomatic engagements.

During his stay, Blinken is scheduled to meet with business leaders in Shanghai before travelling to Beijing on 26th April to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. These meetings are part of ongoing diplomatic engagements aimed at addressing various bilateral and global issues.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged China to ensure a fair playing field for American businesses as he started a visit aimed at addressing multiple contentious issues that threaten the recently mended ties.

Blinken’s visit represents the most recent high-level exchange between the two countries. These interactions, combined with working groups on topics ranging from global trade to military communication, have helped reduce the overt hostility that brought relations to a low point early last year.

However, tensions have been escalating over the operations of American companies in China, Chinese exports, and manufacturing capabilities. Additional strains are emerging due to Beijing’s support for Russia amid its conflict in Ukraine. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller reported that during a meeting with Shanghai’s top official, Chen Jining, Blinken expressed concerns about China’s trade policies and its non-market economic practices.

During the discussions, Blinken emphasised that the U.S. seeks robust economic competition with China and a level playing field for U.S. workers and companies in the Chinese market.

In response, Chen, speaking through translators, noted that a recent conversation between the leaders of the two nations had contributed to the stable and healthy development of their bilateral relationship. He stressed that choosing between cooperation or confrontation would significantly impact the well-being of both nations and humanity’s future.

While in Shanghai, Blinken engaged with American and Chinese students at New York University’s local campus, highlighting the importance of intercultural interactions for mutual understanding. He is scheduled to travel to Beijing on Friday for further discussions with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and possibly President Xi Jinping, which are expected to be challenging.

Concurrently, President Joe Biden signed a bipartisan bill in the U.S. that includes substantial support to counter China’s military capabilities, alongside aid for Taiwan and Ukraine. Another bill connected to this legislation could lead to a ban on TikTok in the U.S. if its Chinese owner, ByteDance, does not divest from the app within the stipulated timeframe.

In addition, Blinken will urge China to prevent its companies from aiding Russia’s military industry. Despite China’s non-involvement in arms provisions, there are concerns about Chinese firms supplying dual-use technology that supports Russia’s military actions.

A senior State Department official indicated that Washington is ready to act against Chinese companies that threaten U.S. and European security, though specific steps were not detailed. Meanwhile, state-run media in China remain skeptical about the potential outcomes of Blinken’s discussions, noting persistent communication gaps and framing issues fuelled by differing perspectives on global security.