The Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, has said China is willing to cooperate with the US as both sides manage their differences and work together to respond to global challenges, raising hopes of a meeting between Xi and the US president, Joe Biden, this year.
In a letter delivered at an annual dinner of the National Committee on US-China Relations in New York, Xi said whether or not the US and China could establish the “right” way of getting along would be crucial to the world, according to state media.
Xi’s call for more stable bilateral ties, which he says should be built on the principles of “mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and win-win cooperation”, comes as the foreign minister, Wang Yi, prepares to visit Washington this week.
The trip, scheduled to take place from Thursday to Saturday, will be the highest-level in-person engagement between the countries before an expected meeting between Biden and Xi in San Francisco at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next month.
China’s state-controlled Global Times wrote in a commentary: “Chinese observers believe the visit [by Wang] will pave the way for a possible meeting between the heads of the two states but added that Washington needs to make concrete efforts to address Beijing’s concerns and show its sincerity.”
In further signs of a potential thawing in relations, the governor of California was warmly greeted by Chinese officials on Wednesday. Gavin Newsom is in China for a week to push for increased climate cooperation. He has had a meeting with Wang, who said his visit “lays a solid foundation, spreads hope, and opens up the future”, and with the vice-president, Han Zheng, who greeted him as an “old friend”.
Han said: “The China-US relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, and the subnational cooperation is an indispensable part to facilitate the sound and steady growth of China-US relations. I am sure your week-long trip will inject positive energy to the development of the China-US relationship.”
Tensions between the countries have risen in recent years, and attempts to repair ties were dashed by a spying row in January, when US authorities shot down a balloon it claimed was Chinese spycraft in US airspace. The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, cancelled a visit to China in response but met his Chinese counterparts in the summer.
Washington’s top priority has been to ensure the intense competition between the world’s two biggest economies and their disagreements over a host of issues from trade to Taiwan and the South China Sea do not veer into conflict.
Chinese state media have reported that Wang expects to discuss the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine as well as the worsening tensions with the Philippines over the South China Sea.
Blinken told the UN security council on Tuesday that he would work with Wang to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spreading when they meet on Friday. US officials are keen for Beijing to use its influence with Iran and other countries in the Middle East to help prevent the conflict widening.
Analysts said while China had expressed concern about Washington’s approach to the conflict, they shared a common interest in avoiding a wider regional war.
Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, said: “That might be a basis for some common ground, even if China likely sees some benefits to the hit the United States is taking in the region among its Arab partners.”
However, she said Beijing’s leverage could be limited, while others questioned its willingness to use it.
Jon Alterman, the head of the Middle East programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said China, as a big consumer of oil, had an interest in preventing a direct US-Iran confrontation as it would increase oil prices.
“Still, the Chinese are unlikely to do any heavy lifting here,” he added. “I expect they will want a seat at the table when the Israel-Gaza struggle gets resolved, but they don’t feel much need or ability to hasten resolution.”
Israel’s bombing and siege of Gaza in response to Hamas attacks have stirred anger in Muslim-majority countries, and Washington fears an imminent ground offensive could spark a wider conflict.
China has repeatedly called for restraint and a ceasefire in response to Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and sharpened its criticism of Israel.