US, China Hold Talks to Move Beyond Spy Balloon Incident

    US, China Hold Talks to Move Beyond Spy Balloon Incident
    Last updated May 12, 2023
    Image credit: Xinhua/Shutterstock [via The Guardian]


    • The White House on Thursday publicized a two-day meeting between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi in Vienna this week. The White House said both sides reportedly had "candid" and "constructive" discussions on wide-ranging key issues.
    • Talks in the Austrian capital to stabilize relations between the two major powers, which have hit their lowest level since diplomatic ties were established in 1979, focused on US-China relations, global security issues, the Ukraine War, and Taiwan.
    • Sullivan and Wang, who spent more than eight hours together on Wednesday and Thursday, reportedly agreed that the February spy balloon incident was "unfortunate" and are now seeking to restore regular channels of communication.
    • The Vienna meeting coincided with Reuters reporting that Washington had refrained from imposing sanctions and other measures such as export controls in the wake of the incident to avoid further damage to US-China relations.
    • The alleged Chinese spy balloon roamed freely across the US from Jan. 28 to Feb. 4 before being shot down over South Carolina, with the Biden admin. reportedly struggling to block the intelligence gathering by the balloon over US military sites.
    • Following this incident, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken postponed a planned trip to China indefinitely. Yet, signs of a diplomatic thaw emerged earlier this week as China's Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with US envoy Nicholas Burns.


    Pro-China narrative

    The fact that Washington is now seeking dialogue after months of escalation sends a positive signal, but skepticism is warranted given the level of hostility the US has recently shown. The key to restoring viable relations will be for Washington not to communicate with Beijing on one side and further exacerbate tensions on the other by undermining the PRC's sovereignty, security, and development interests. China has shown goodwill in the recent rounds of talks, and now it is up to the US to back up its words with action.

    Anti-China narrative

    The US-China talks are evidence of Washington's effort to rebuild the basis for dialogue with Beijing. So far, however, the PRC does not seem interested in better coordination with Washington on security issues, seeing it as another attempt to contain China's influence. The faction within China's power apparatus that wants to ensure that an event such as a maritime collision or a spy balloon does not escalate into an armed clash is shrinking. For dialogue to bear fruit, Beijing must overcome its unfounded mistrust of the US.

    Nerd narrative

    There is a 20% chance that the US and China will be at war before 2035, according to the Metaculus prediction community.

    Establishment split



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