US’s top diplomat aims to keep lines of communication open amid heightened tensions between two countries.

Antony Blinken, the United States’s secretary of state, has arrived in Beijing on the highest-level trip by a US official to China in nearly five years.

Blinken’s two-day trip on Sunday comes amid frosty bilateral ties and follows the discovery of a suspected spy balloon above the US in February that prompted him to delay a trip that had been planned for the same month.

With the world’s two largest economies at odds on an array of issues from trade to technology and regional security, both China and the US have voiced guarded hopes of improving communication, although they have played down expectations of a significant breakthrough.

US President Joe Biden played down the balloon episode as Blinken was heading to China, saying: “I don’t think the leadership knew where it was and knew what was in it and knew what was going on.”

“I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional,” Biden told reporters on Saturday.

Biden said he hoped to again meet Chinese President Xi Jinping after a lengthy meeting in November on the sidelines of a Group of 20 (G20) summit in Bali, where the two agreed on Blinken’s visit.

“I’m hoping that, over the next several months, I’ll be meeting with Xi again and talking about legitimate differences we have but also how there’s areas we can get along,” Biden said.

The two leaders are likely to attend the next G20 summit, in September in New Delhi, and Xi has been invited to travel to San Francisco in November when the US hosts leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.

Blinken is expected to meet top Chinese officials and attend a banquet at the state guesthouse in the Diaoyutai gardens.

A phone call between Blinken and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang underlined the heightened tension between the two sides, with the Chinese foreign minister stressing the need for the US to recognise Beijing’s “core concerns“, such as Taiwan. China’s top diplomat also said the US should “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests in the name of competition”.

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