It is still unclear if Blinken will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping later in the day before he concludes his two-day trip to the country and flies to London.
Blinken is the most senior US official to visit China since 2019, thanks in part to strict COVID-19 travel restrictions. The visit follows several months of increased contact between top US and Chinese officials abroad and by virtual meeting, amid concerns on both sides over the deterioration in relations over issues from Taiwan to semiconductors and human rights.
The secretary of state, who was originally set to visit Beijing in February until the discovery of an alleged Chinese spy balloon flying over the US, arrived on Sunday and spent most of the day with Qin Gang.
The US State Department described the talks as a “candid, substantive, and constructive” effort to maintain “open channels of communication” as Blinken invited Qin Gang to the US on a follow-up trip to maintain high-level contact between Chinese and American officials.
The Chinese readout of the meeting was also largely positive and said both sides agreed to increase commercial flights between China and the US as well as encourage more people-to-people exchanges through student, academic and business groups.
It also mentioned Xi and US President Joe Biden’s meeting in Bali last year, when both leaders promised to take more concrete action to improve communication.
While Blinken’s trip has so far been largely symbolic, it does appear to have gone better than the relatively pessimistic expectations around it had suggested, said Bonnie Glaser, the managing director of the German Marshall Fund’s Indo-Pacific Program.
“Given the deep mistrust in the relationship, so far the visit has gone better than I expected. There was zero chance of a breakthrough. We can only hope for baby steps toward a new modus vivendi in the relationship,” she told Al Jazeera by email.
Biden said over the weekend that he hopes to meet Xi again in the coming months, an event that would probably take place at the annual summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping in California later this year.