As Blinken heads to China, these are the major divides he will try to bridge

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will begin three days of talks with senior Chinese officials in Shanghai and Beijing this week on U.S.-China relations at a critical point involving numerous global disputes.

The mere fact that Blinken is making the trip — shortly after a call between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, a similar visit to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a phone call between the U.S. and Chinese defense chiefs — may be seen by some . as encouraging, but ties between Washington and Beijing are strained and rifts are widening.

From Russia and Ukraine to Israel, Iran and the broader Middle East, as well as the Indo-Pacific and trade issues, the US and China are on a series of collision courses that have stoked fears about military and strategic security as well as international economic stability .

Blinken “will express our concerns clearly and openly” during the talks that begin Wednesday, a senior State Department official said.

Here’s a look at some of the key issues Blinken is expected to raise during the trip:

The Biden administration has grown increasingly concerned in recent months about Chinese support for Russia’s defense industrial base, which U.S. officials say will allow Moscow to overcome Western sanctions imposed after its invasion of Ukraine and supply its military . US officials say this will be a key topic of discussion during Blinken’s visit.

While the U.S. says there is no evidence that China is actually arming Russia, officials say other activities are potentially equally problematic.

“If on the one hand China claims it wants good relations with Europe and other countries, on the other hand it cannot fuel the greatest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said last week.

A senior State Department official said Friday that “thanks to Chinese support, Russia has largely restored its defense industrial base, which not only impacts the battlefield in Ukraine but, in our view, poses a greater threat to broader European security .”

US officials, from Biden on down, have repeatedly called on China to use whatever leverage it has over Iran to prevent Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza from turning into a broader regional conflict.

While China appears generally receptive to such calls – especially as it relies heavily on oil imports from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries – tensions have steadily increased since the start of the Gaza war in October and more recent direct attacks and counter-attacks between Israel and other Middle Eastern countries. Iran.

Blinken has urged China to take a more active stance and push Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken several times with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi over the past six months and urged China to tell Iran to remove the proxy groups it has supported in the region, including Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Yemeni Houthis and Iranian-backed militias in the region. Iraq and Syria.

Blinken told Wang in a phone call this month that “escalation is in no one’s interest and countries should urge Iran not to escalate,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said of their latest conversation.

The senior State Department official said Blinken would reiterate U.S. interest in China using “whatever channels or influence the country has to try to convey the need for restraint to all parties, including Iran.”

In the Indo-Pacific region, China and the United States are the main players, but Beijing has in recent years become increasingly aggressive towards Taiwan and its smaller Southeast Asian neighbors, with which it has significant territorial and maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises that threaten Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, and vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily increased military aid and sales to Taipei, much to Chinese anger.

The senior State Department official said Blinken would “underscore both privately and publicly America’s continued interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. We think this is crucial for the region and the world.”

In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned about provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas.

In particular, the US has raised objections to what it believes are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate maritime activities of others in the sea, particularly the Philippines and Vietnam. That was a major topic of concern this month when Biden held a triple summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.

The US and China are at odds over human rights in China’s western Xinjiang region, Tibet and Hong Kong, as well as over the fate of several US citizens who the State Department says have been “wrongfully” detained by Chinese authorities.

China has repeatedly dismissed U.S. criticism as improper interference in its internal affairs. Still, Blinken will raise these issues again, the senior State Department official said, adding that China’s self-declared efforts to ban the export of materials traffickers use to make fentanyl have not yet yielded significant results.

The two sides agreed last year to set up a working group to explore ways to combat the surge in production of fentanyl precursors in China and their exports abroad. U.S. officials say they believe they have made some progress in cracking down on the illegal industry, but many producers have found ways around the new restrictions.