By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s top diplomat Wang Yi will travel to the United States later this week, senior Biden administration officials said on Monday, in a long-anticipated visit that comes amid soaring tensions in the Middle East, which U.S. officials hope Beijing can help contain.
Wang will visit Washington from Oct. 26-28 and meet with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan, officials said, declining to say if he will meet with Biden as well.
The trip will be the highest-level in-person engagement ahead of an expected meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in San Francisco in November. It is also the long-awaited reciprocal visit after several top U.S. officials including Blinken visited Beijing this summer.
Washington’s top priority has been to ensure the intense competition between the world’s two largest economies and their disagreements over a host of issues from trade to Taiwan and the South China Sea does not veer into conflict.
“We continue to believe that direct face-to-face diplomacy is the best way to raise challenging issues, address misperception and miscommunication, and explore working with the Chinese where our interests intersect,” said one official, who briefed reporters on the trip on condition of anonymity.
The visit also comes as Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks and Israel’s response dominate global headlines, even as Russia’s war in Ukraine grinds on.
Washington is sending military aid to Israel and Ukraine, while Beijing has grown closer to Russia since the Ukraine war began and has called for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
The Israel-Hamas war and Russia’s war in Ukraine would both be discussed, a second official said, adding that the U.S. would “push the Chinese to take a more constructive approach on both.”
Washington has placed importance on China’s ability to influence Iran. Blinken, during his whirlwind trip last week to the Middle East, held a phone call with Wang asking him to use Beijing’s clout in the region to ensure the conflict does not widen.
China has consistently called for restraint and a ceasefire in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following the Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 Israelis but has also sharpened its criticism of Israel.
Territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas would also be on the agenda during Wang’s visit, the U.S. officials said, adding that Washington was deeply concerned by China’s “destabilizing and dangerous actions” in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, a U.S. ally, on Monday accused Chinese coastguard vessels of “intentionally” colliding with its vessels on a resupply mission, in the most serious incident yet in the waters around the disputed Second Thomas shoal.
Re-establishing military-to-military ties with China remains a top U.S. priority, the officials said, adding that meant sustained communications down the ranks and that China’s apparent lack of a defense minister would not be an obstacle.
Defense Minister Li Shangfu has not been seen in public for nearly two months amid a corruption probe.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis, editing by Deepa Babington)