JAKARTA: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Beijing’s top diplomat on Thursday of consequences over hacking after a breach blamed on China again threatened to undermine a nascent stability in ties between the two powers.
Less than a month after Blinken paid a rare visit to Beijing, he met for more than an hour and a half with Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign policy supremo, on the sidelines of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) talks in Jakarta.
“Director, good to see you,” a smiling Blinken said in the only public comments between the two sides after the longer-than-expected meeting at a hotel.
A senior US official later said that Blinken raised with Wang the breach of US government sites reported this week by Microsoft, which blamed Chinese hackers motivated by espionage.
Secretary of State Blinken meets Wang Yi in Jakarta
Blinken “made clear that any action that targets US government, US companies, American citizens, is of deep concern to us and that we will take appropriate action to hold those responsible accountable”, the official said, on condition of anonymity.
The official stopped short of saying that Blinken directly accused China of involvement.
The State Department has publicly said only that it is investigating the hacking, which according to Microsoft affected approximately 25 organisations.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller called the Jakarta talks “candid and constructive” and part of efforts to “responsibly manage competition” between the world’s two largest economies.
Wang is representing China at the Jakarta talks as Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who would normally attend such meetings, is ill, according to China’s foreign ministry.
Blinken told Wang to convey his “best wishes” to Qin, another US official said.
No progress on military talks
Incidents have repeatedly impacted efforts to repair US-China relations, with Blinken scrapping his first planned trip to Beijing in February after Washington said it detected a Chinese espionage balloon over the US mainland.
Blinken eventually visited in mid-June, becoming the first US secretary of state in China in nearly five years, opening a flurry of diplomacy since then.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen went to the Chinese capital last week and climate envoy John Kerry is set to go in the coming days.
But US officials acknowledged that Blinken has not achieved a key goal of resuming US dialogue with the Chinese military, seen as crucial to preventing disagreements from escalating into all-out confrontation.
Blinken “underscored we have a responsibility to keep our channels of communication open, including between our two militaries”, the second US official said on Thursday.
“I think it’s urgent that we do so. We haven’t achieved that yet,” he said.
China has demanded that the United States lift sanctions on its defence minister, Li Shangfu, which were imposed over weapons purchases from US adversary Russia.
Wang met separately on Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Blinken is not scheduled to meet Lavrov but the two will both attend an 18-nation East Asia Summit meeting on Friday (today), their first time in a room together since a G20 meeting in New Delhi in March.
Blinken has refused most talks with Lavrov since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, believing that Moscow is not serious about diplomacy, and has pressed China not to support the war.
Published in Dawn, July 14th, 2023