US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived in Beijing early on Sunday on a high-stakes diplomatic mission to try to cool exploding US-China tensions that have set many around the world on edge.
Mr Blinken was to begin two days of talks with senior Chinese officials in the afternoon.
He is the highest-level American official to visit China since President Joe Biden took office and the first secretary of state to make the trip in five years.
The trip comes after he postponed plans to visit in February after a Chinese surveillance balloon was shot down over the US.
Yet prospects for any significant breakthrough on the most vexing issues facing the planet’s two largest economies are slim, as already ties have grown increasingly fraught in recent years.
Animosity and recriminations have steadily escalated over a series of disagreements that have implications for global security and stability.
Mr Blinken plans to meet with Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang on Sunday, top diplomat Wang Yi, and possibly President Xi Jinping on Monday, according to US officials.
Mr Biden and Mr Xi agreed to Mr Blinken’s trip early at a meeting last year in Bali.
The list of disagreements and potential conflict points is long: ranging from trade with Taiwan, human rights conditions in China to Hong Kong, as well as the Chinese military assertiveness in the South China Sea to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
US officials said before Mr Blinken’s departure from Washington on Friday that he would raise each of them, though neither side has shown any inclination to back down on their positions.
Shortly before leaving, Mr Blinken emphasised the importance of the US and China establishing and maintaining better lines of communication.
The US wants to make sure “that the competition we have with China doesn’t veer into conflict” due to avoidable misunderstandings, he told reporters.
Mr Biden and Mr Xi had made commitments to improve communications “precisely so that we can make sure we are communicating as clearly as possible to avoid possible misunderstandings and miscommunications,” Mr Blinken said on Friday.
Mr Xi offered a hint of a possible willingness to reduce tensions, saying in a meeting with Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates on Friday that the United States and China can cooperate to “benefit our two countries”.
“I believe that the foundation of Sino-US relations lies in the people,” Mr Xi said to Mr Gates.
“Under the current world situation, we can carry out various activities that benefit our two countries, the people of our countries, and the entire human race.”
Mr Biden told White House reporters on Saturday he was “hoping that over the next several months, I’ll be meeting with Xi again and talking about legitimate differences we have, but also how … to get along”.