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Mideast in focus as US, China meet to pave way for Biden-Xi summit

Washington/Beijing: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi begins a long-anticipated visittoWashington on Thursday,astheUS andChinaseektomanage deep strategic differences andpavethewayforan expectedsummitbetween presidents JoeBidenandXiJinping.

The Middle East war has added a fresh dynamictothe testy relationship between the superpowers and Washington is hoping Beijing could use its influence with Irantohelp ensure the Israel-Hamas conflict does not spreadtothe wider region.

However, while both Beijing and Washington have spoken of lookingforareas where they can work together, andXion Wednesday saidChinawas willingtocooperate on global challenges, experts do not expect immediate progress.

TheBidenadministration’s priority with Beijing has beentoprevent intense competition between the world’s two largest economies and disagreements on a host of issues from tradetoTaiwan and the SouthChinaSea veering into conflict.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will welcome Wang at the State Department on Thursday, and he told the UN Security Council on Tuesday he would work with himtoprevent the Middle East conflict from spreading.

Policy analystsinChinaand theUS say both sides share an interestinaverting a wider war and thatChina,asa major oil purchaser, has considerable influence it could exert on Iran.

But whether Beijing will use it remainstobe seen and experts sayChinamay instead watch from the sidelinesfora while longer.

“The Chinese certainly have an interestinpreventing a direct US-Iranian confrontation,asthey are major oil consumers and that would spike prices,” said Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at Washington’s CenterforStrategic and International Studies.

“Still, the Chinese are unlikelytodo any heavy lifting here. I expect they’ll want a seat at the table when the Israel-Gaza struggle gets resolved, but they don’t feel much need or abilitytohasten resolution.”


Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University ofChina, said Beijing exerting its influence over Iran was “almost the only serious and practicalUS expectation ofChinaon the Middle East situation.”

However Shi added: “TheU.S. position on Iran is far from acceptabletoChinaand vice versa. Mutual compromise on this issue could be too limited and smalltobe of any significance.”

Washington has stressed the importance ofChina’s abilitytoinfluence Iran. Blinken, during a whirlwind Middle East trip last week, spoke by phonetoWang and asked himtouse Beijing’s clouttoensure the conflict does not widen.

Chinahas calledforrestraint and a ceasefireinresponsetoIsrael’s bombardment of Gazainretaliationforan October 7 attack by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,400 people. Retaliatory Israeli airstrikes have killed over 6,500 people, the health ministryinHamas-ruled Gaza said on Wednesday. Reuters has not been abletoindependently verify the casualty figures of either side.

“Chinahas been working tirelesslytopromote the cessation of hostilities and the restoration of peace. We have been maintaining close communication with the parties concerned,”China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said on Tuesday.

Wang’s visittoWashington comes after several topUS officials, including Blinken, visited Beijinginthe past several months.

The veteran Chinese diplomat is expectedtomeetBiden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Friday. He is also expectedtospeak withBidenduring his visittothe White House, accordingtotwoU.S. officials, although it is unclear how substantial their interaction will be.

PathtoBiden-Xi meeting

Analysts expect the discussionstofocuson preparationsforan anticipatedmeetingbetweenBidenandXion the sidelines of thesummitof Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countriesinSan Francisco from November 11to17. It would beBidenandXi’s firstin-personmeetingsince asummitinBali last November.

“There are substantive thingstobe ironed out and finalized,” said Yun Sun, director of theChinaProgram at Washington’s Stimson Center. “(Wang) will be hereforthe negotiations only – the big deliverables will be reservedforthe top leaderstoannounce.”

On Wednesday,Xisaid whether Washington and Beijing could establish the “right”wayof getting along and managing their differences would be crucialtothe world.

The two sides go into APEC from different economic perspectives, with economic policy analysts saying theU.S. has weathered challenging global conditions after the Covid-19 pandemic somewhat better thanChina.

US and Chinese officials held a virtualmeetingon Monday on macroeconomic developments, talks theUS called “productive and substantive” andChinacalled “in-depth, frank and constructive.”

US officials said Taiwan and the South and EastChinaSeas, where they accused Beijing of “destabilizing and dangerous actions” against rival territorial claimants, would also be on the agenda.

They said re-establishing military-to-military ties withChinaremained a topUS prioritytoavoid unintended conflict.

China’s Global Times tabloid highlighted contradictionsinrelations.

“Although Sino-US interactions have seen a rapid recoveryindifferent fields,” theUS policy of attemptingto”contain”Chinahad not changed, it said, accusing Washington of “two-faced tactics”inwhich it “frequently takes various opportunitiestodiscreditChinaand create friction.”

(Published 26 October 2023, 05:06 IST)

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