US envoy Wendy Sherman to visit China as tensions build

Wendy Sherman appears before a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing for her nomination to be deputy secretary in the State Department in Washington, D.C., on March 3, 2021. (Rod Lamkey - Cnp/CNP via ZUMA Wire/TNS)
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Lucille Liu Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will travel to China on Sunday as bilateral tensions rise over hacking accusations and sanctions on Chinese officials.

Sherman will travel to the Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet with Chinese officials including State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on July 25 and July 26, the State Department confirmed in a statement Wednesday.

The Financial Times reported earlier that Sherman had halted her travel plans after being offered a meeting with Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng, whom the U.S. didn’t consider to be her counterpart. In 2016, when then-Deputy Secretary Antony Blinken visited China, he met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Executive Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.

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“The Deputy Secretary will discuss areas where we have serious concerns about PRC actions, as well as areas where our interests align,” the State Department said, referring to the People’s Republic of China.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters Wednesday that Sherman’s visit is intended to show China “what healthy and responsible competition looks like” and to make sure that “competition doesn’t veer into conflict” by ensuring there are “guardrails” in the relationship.

Price emphasized that Sherman will have “senior-level” communications in China. But a statement issued by China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry emphasized that Sherman “will hold talks” with Xie, the vice foreign minister, and after that Foreign Minister Wang will “meet her.”

Already strained relations between the two countries have further deteriorated after the U.S. and key allies tied the Chinese government to a sprawling Microsoft Exchange hack, warned American companies about doing business in Hong Kong and issued fresh sanctions on Chinese officials. Sherman would be the second Biden administration official to visit China after climate envoy John Kerry met with his counterpart in Shanghai in April.

Ryan Hass, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said he expected both the U.S. and China to make sure the discussions are “forthright.”

“Given the current stresses in the relationship and the possibility of a meeting between both leaders at the G-20 in October, I suspect both sides decided to turn focus to matters of substance,” he said.

Sherman held trilateral talks with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo earlier this week. Their discussion on preserving peace in the Taiwan Strait prompted a stern rebuke from Beijing.

Sherman will travel to Oman on July 27.

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