U.S. Deputy Secretary of State’s Asia Trip Does Not Include China, Last-Minute Cancellation of Visit Arrangements by Both Parties?

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will visit Japan, South Korea and Mongolia next week, the U.S. State Department announced Thursday (July 15). Foreign policy circles in Washington had previously anticipated that Sherman would visit China. But the State Department announced the trip without mentioning China. NSC officials said there was no more information available on where else Sherman might visit.

The State Department said Sherman will visit Japan, South Korea and Mongolia from July 18 to July 25. In Tokyo, she will discuss a wide range of issues with Japanese officials, including combating climate change and strengthening global health security. Sherman will hold a joint meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Kenryo Mori and South Korean Foreign Ministry first-time official Choi Jong-jian to discuss trilateral cooperation on pressing common challenges, including regional security issues such as North Korea, as well as climate change and global health. Sherman will then travel to Seoul to meet with South Korean officials and hold a strategic dialogue with Choi Jong-jian to discuss bilateral and multilateral cooperation on shared priorities, including climate change, epidemic relief and post-epidemic economic recovery. Sherman will then travel to Ulaanbaatar to meet with Mongolian officials to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries and discuss what the State Department called “shared democratic and human rights values, including freedom of religion or belief and respect for traditional cultural identity and practices.

In a statement, the State Department said Deputy Secretary Sherman will “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to work with allies and partners to advance Indo-Pacific peace, security and prosperity and to maintain a rules-based international order” during his visit.

“Maintaining a rules-based international order” is the term used by the State Department to refer to its response to China’s increasingly aggressive behavior.

This was Sherman’s second visit to Asia in less than two months, after visiting Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand in late May and early June of this year.

What is particularly striking about Sherman’s visit is that it does not include China. She had previously been expected to visit China. Just a day before the State Department announced her trip, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted a source as saying that the State Department’s No. 2 would meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng in Tianjin next week to discuss a possible meeting between Secretary of State Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The visit is “seen as a crucial first step toward a possible summit between the two leaders,” the report said. The report was reprinted in several other media outlets.

Asked Thursday whether Sherman’s trip to Asia would include China, a U.S. National Security Council official replied that “there are no further announcements at this time about possible stops beyond the ones announced by the State Department.

The Financial Times, citing four sources, reported that the U.S. side canceled Sherman’s planned trip to Tianjin after China refused to let her meet with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng, who is in charge of day-to-day diplomatic operations, and only agreed to let her meet with Xie Feng, the fifth-ranking deputy foreign minister in charge of U.S. regional affairs.

There is also speculation that the reason for the last-minute cancellation of Sherman’s planned trip to China by the U.S. and China may be related to the fact that the Biden administration is preparing to impose sanctions on some Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.

The Biden administration could issue a business alert against Hong Kong as early as Friday, sources told Reuters after the State Department announced the itinerary for Sherman’s trip to Asia.

President Joe Biden spoke about the upcoming alert during a joint press conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Thursday. He said, “The situation in Hong Kong is deteriorating and the Chinese government is not maintaining the commitments it has made about how it will deal with Hong Kong.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. government stepped up its warnings to businesses about the growing risks associated with establishing supply chain and investment ties with China’s Xinjiang region for alleged forced labor and human rights violations.

Both U.S. and Chinese leaders are scheduled to participate in a videoconference of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders on Friday. A National Security Council official, asked if President Biden would use the meeting to engage with President Xi Jinping, said noncommittally, “President Biden looks forward to engaging with APEC leaders.”

President Biden has held face-to-face meetings with a number of allied leaders as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, but has yet to hold a face-to-face summit with Xi. The two men spoke by phone on the evening of Feb. 10.

The last face-to-face meeting between top U.S. and Chinese officials since President Biden took office was in March of this year. At that time, Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Adviser Sullivan met in Anchorage, Alaska, with China’s top Communist Party official in charge of foreign affairs, Yang Jiechi, and State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, but the two sides engaged in a heated exchange at the outset of the meeting. On the eve of that meeting, Washington announced a series of measures against China, including beginning to revoke the operating licenses of Chinese telecommunications companies, sending subpoenas to several Chinese high-tech companies over national security concerns and renewing sanctions involving Hong Kong. During the meeting, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had accused the U.S. of intentionally announcing these sanctions on the eve of the talks.

Secretary of State John Blinken, who held a video conference with ASEAN foreign ministers this week, said the United States rejects China’s “illegal” maritime claims in the South China Sea and stands with Southeast Asian countries facing Chinese “coercion. .