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Secretary of State Blinken will meet China's top diplomat Wang Yi in Munich

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This weekend in Munich, heads of state, diplomats and policy experts from around the world gathering in a small hotel to talk about international security - among them, Vice President Kamala Harris and China's top diplomat. Both addressed the conference this morning. NPR's John Ruwitch has been listening in from Beijing and joins us. John, thanks for being with us.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Happy to do it.

SIMON: There's lots of talk about whether the U.S. and China could talk after the U.S. shootdown of a Chinese surveillance balloon. The secretary of state, of course, canceled his trip planned for early February when the balloon was seen in the sky. You have some news to share?

RUWITCH: Yeah. A source familiar with the planning here told NPR that Blinken - Secretary of State Blinken and Wang Yi are going to meet in Munich. You know, there's a ton of acrimony in the relationship, obviously, between China and the U.S., a lot of mistrust. And frankly, there's been a lot of tough talk and accusations. Blinken's trip that was scheduled earlier in the month to Beijing was supposed to be this confidence-building measure, kind of a way to build on momentum after a face-to-face meeting between President Biden and China's Xi Jinping in November. Before the balloon, there was this sense that both sides were at least taking these small steps to put a floor under this deteriorating relationship.

You know, it's unclear how much of that can be restored now. This meeting in Munich will probably help a little bit. President Biden said on Thursday he was going to talk with Xi Jinping, but China's foreign ministry did not confirm that. Also, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, speaking on Friday, said that a formal request for that conversation had not been made to Beijing. So, you know, taking baby steps, right? The big question is, with all this mistrust and tension, what progress can be made?

SIMON: What did Vice President Harris and others at the conference have to say about the war in Ukraine as it enters its second year?

RUWITCH: Yeah. Vice President Harris announced that the U.S. has formally determined that Russia has committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine and promised that they'll be held to account. I believe that's some new terminology there. Those are new words there from her. She said the trans-Atlantic unity and the NATO alliance were stronger than ever, that the international rules-based order was strong and must stay strong and that Russia had really been weakened by its invasion.

And, you know, she reiterated a point that President Biden has made that the U.S. will support Ukraine for as long as it takes. She did point out that the U.S. was troubled by China's relationship with Moscow and the fact that it had strengthened since the start of the war. And she made a brief, but quite clear, warning to China not to provide any lethal aid to Russia.

SIMON: No invitations to Russia and Iran, right?

RUWITCH: Yes, that's correct. It's worth noting that both have attended in the past, obviously - Russia since the 1990s. With the one-year anniversary of the Ukraine invasion just around the corner, though, this war is front and center at the conference. And the chair of the Munich Security Conference was very clear about why Russia wasn't invited. He reportedly said that, in effect, they didn't want Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister of Russia, to try to use the conference as a forum for Russian propaganda. You know, of course, at the same time, Germany's position on Russia has become tougher over the course of the war. Germany is the host of this meeting, and the noninvitation of Russia really reflects its position. In terms of Iran, you know, its officials weren't invited because of the suppression of protests that's been happening there for months.

SIMON: NPR's John Ruwitch in Beijing, thanks so much.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 17, 2023 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous headline for this story incorrectly indicated that the planned meeting would include Vice President Kamala Harris. The meeting is planned for Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Chinese diplomat Wang Yi.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.