US wants to 'move beyond' China spy balloon tensions

·2-min read

A top White House official has told a senior Chinese foreign policy adviser that the Biden administration is "looking to move beyond" tensions spurred by the arrival and shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon over the United States.

The high-level talks on Wednesday and Thursday in the Austrian capital Vienna were not publicised ahead of time by either side.

The White House described the wide-ranging discussions between  national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China's Wang Yi as "candid" and "constructive."

A Biden administration official said both sides recognise the February incident was "unfortunate" and are now looking to "reestablish standard, normal channels of communications."

As the political and military rivalry between China and the US intensifies, American officials and analysts are worried that a lack of reliable crisis communications could cause a minor confrontation to spiral into greater hostilities. They cite the ability to communicate with the former Soviet Union as allowing the Cold War to end without a nuclear exchange.

The White House in a statement said the meeting was part of "ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage competition," and that Sullivan and Wang discussed key issues in the US-China relationship, Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, Taiwan, and more.

Chinese officials saw the discussions as "substantive" and said both sides would "continue to make good use of this channel of strategic communication," according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Sullivan also raised the cases of three American citizens imprisoned in China – Mark Swidan, Kai Li, and David Lin. All three have been designated by the State Department's office of the special presidential envoy on hostage affairs designates as "wrongful detainees."

Tensions between the countries spiked last year after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to democratically governed Taiwan. That visit led China, which claims the island as its territory, to launch military exercises around Taiwan.

US-China relations became further strained earlier this year after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had crossed the United States.

But there are signs the two sides are getting diplomatic communications back on track.

President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks in Bali, Indonesia, in November. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to travel to China in February, but the trip was postponed after the spy balloon incident. Blinken and Wang, China's top diplomat, met later in February on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

The talks between Sullivan and Wang was their first face-to-face meeting since Wang was elevated last year to the Communist Party's Politburo, the top policymaking body made up of the party's 24 most senior officials.