Blinken to meet China’s Wang, shun Russia’s Lavrov at G20 talks

Top US diplomat will call on G20 nations to put pressure on Russia to reopen sea lanes blocked by the Ukraine conflict.

Antony Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with China's foreign minister Wang Yi in Bali at the gathering of the world’s leading industrialised nations [File: Michael Sohn/AP]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the sidelines of a G20 ministerial conference in Bali this week.

But the top United States diplomat will not be meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who is also attending the gathering, officials said on Tuesday.

During his talks with Wang, Blinken will again warn China against supporting Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the officials said, and will use the G20 ministerial meeting to urge nations to pressure Moscow to support efforts to reopen sea lanes blocked by the conflict.

Daniel Kritenbrink, the US envoy for East Asia, said he expected a “candid” exchange on Ukraine in Blinken’s talks with China’s Wang, which are expected on Saturday.

“This will be another opportunity … to convey our expectations about what we would expect China to do and not to do in the context of Ukraine,” he said.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi
Blinken is expected to meet with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi  on Saturday in the latest high-level contact between the two countries as the US considers lifting some tariffs [File: Jam Sta Rosa/Pool via AP]

Analysts foresee a contentious G20 exchange in which Washington and its allies blame Moscow for global food shortages since its February 24 invasion of Ukraine, a major grain exporter, while Russia, also a major exporter, blames US-led sanctions.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken is not expected to meet with Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister.

“We would like to have the Russians give us a reason to meet on a bilateral basis with them,” he said.

“But the only thing we have seen emanate from Moscow is more brutality and aggression against the people and country of Ukraine.”

At the G20 conference, Blinken will raise energy security and a United Nations initiative to try to get Ukrainian and Russian foodstuffs and fertiliser back to global markets, said Ramin Toloui, assistant secretary of state for economic and business affairs.

“G20 countries should hold Russia accountable and insist that it support ongoing UN efforts to reopen the sea lanes for grain delivery,” he told reporters. “Whether that happens at the level of the G20, or the level of individual G20 countries, that’s an important point that Secretary Blinken will make,” he said.

Ukraine, which accuses Russia of blocking the movement of its ships, said this week it is holding talks with Turkey and the UN to secure guarantees for grain exports.

Russia denies it is blocking any movement of grain and says Ukraine is to blame for the lack of movement, partly because of what it says are mining operations in its ports.

The G20 ministerial meeting, which runs from Wednesday through Thursday, comes ahead of a leader’s summit in November, also in Indonesia.

Walking a tightrope as G20 host, Indonesia has not rescinded invitations to Russia, with President Vladimir Putin saying he will attend the summit in November – but it has also invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, Beijing and Moscow announced a “no limits” partnership. But US officials have said they have not seen China evade US-led sanctions on Moscow or provide military equipment to Russia.

China, however, has refused to condemn Russia’s actions and has criticised the sweeping sanctions. US officials have warned of consequences, including sanctions, should China start offering material support for Russia’s war effort.

Washington calls China its main strategic rival and is concerned it might one day attempt to take over by force the self-ruled democratic island of Taiwan, just as Russia attacked Ukraine.

Kritenbrink, the top US envoy for East Asia, said it was “absolutely critical” to maintain open lines of communication with Chinese counterparts “to ensure that we prevent any miscalculation that could lead inadvertently to conflict and confrontation”.

The Department of State said Blinken’s Asia trip, which begins in Indonesia on Wednesday, will also include a stop in Thailand.

In Bali, Blinken will also meet Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi, while in Bangkok, he will meet with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies