US top diplomat Blinken calls for ‘level playing field’ for firms in China

US Secretary of State expresses concern over ‘trade policies and non-market economic practices’ on visit to Shanghai.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a three-day visit to China [Mark Schiefelbein/AFP]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on China to treat US businesses fairly as the top diplomat kicked off a three-day trip aimed at shoring up a recent stabilisation of ties between Washington and Beijing.

Blinken met the Chinese Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, Chen Jining, on Thursday as the sides seek to narrow their differences on thorny issues including Russia, Taiwan and trade.

Blinken raised concerns about China’s “trade policies and non-market economic practices” and expressed hope for a “level playing field for US workers and firms operating in China”, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said

Chen, who welcomed Blinken partly in English, spoke of the importance of US businesses in China and said the choice of “cooperation or confrontation affects the wellbeing of both peoples, both countries and the future of humanity”.

Blinken arrived in China on Wednesday just hours after US President Joe Biden signed into law a package providing billions of dollars in assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

The legislation sets aside $8bn to counter Chinese threats in Taiwan and the broader Asia Pacific, as well as giving China’s ByteDance nine months to sell video-sharing app TikTok with a possible three-month extension if a sale is in progress.

Ukraine is expected to be a central topic of discussion during Blinken’s visit, focusing on the Biden administration’s claims that China has allowed Russia to largely reconstitute its defence-industrial base, affecting not only the war in Ukraine but posing a threat to broader European security.

“If China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fuelling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War,” Blinken said last week.

China has said it has the right to trade with Russia and accused the US of exacerbating the war by arming and funding Ukraine.

“It is extremely hypocritical and irresponsible for the US to introduce a large-scale aid bill for Ukraine while making groundless accusations against normal economic and trade exchanges between China and Russia,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday.

In the Middle East, Blinken has encouraged China to press Iran more actively to not escalate tensions in the region.

He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, several times urging China to tell Iran to restrain the proxy groups it has supported in the region, including Gaza’s Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthis and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria.

While China appears to have been generally receptive to such calls, tensions have steadily increased since the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Beijing is also seeking to resolve several other sources of tensions with Washington, among them the US accusations that China is fuelling the fentanyl opioid crisis in the US.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies