US formally invites China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington

Washington says the invitation extended to Wang’s predecessor in June was officially transferred to Beijing’s new top diplomat.

Washington, DC – The United States has formally invited China’s new Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington as officials from the two countries continue to meet regularly amid intensifying competition.

The US State Department confirmed the invite on Tuesday, saying Washington expects Wang to accept it, but it did not specify a date for the visit. The offer was previously extended to Wang’s predecessor, Qin Gang, who was removed after just seven months in the position.

“In the meeting yesterday, we extended the invitation that had previously been made to the former Foreign Minister Qin Gang and made clear that that invitation did transfer over to Minister [Wang] Yi,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday.

US officials had hosted senior Chinese diplomat Yang Tao at the State Department a day earlier.

On July 25, Qin– a former ambassador to the US – was abruptly removed from his post and subsequently replaced by Wang. No reason was given for the personnel change. Qin, 57, had not been seen publicly since late June.

Wang had served as foreign minister prior to Qin and before his re-appointment, he was the director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Foreign Affairs Commission Office. He continues to serve in that role.Analysts told Al Jazeera last week that the unexpected switch in foreign ministers is unlikely to have significant effects on Chinese policy or ties between Washington and Beijing.

Yun Sun, the director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, a think tank in Washington, DC, said naming Wang as Qin’s replacement underscores Beijing’s desire for continuity.

“He’s a safe choice,” Yun told Al Jazeera. “He is chartering the course at a time of instability.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met with Wang before his recent appointment on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Indonesia last month.

“The meeting was part of ongoing efforts to maintain open channels of communication to clarify US interests across a wide range of issues and to responsibly manage competition by reducing the risk of misperception and miscalculation,” Miller said in a statement on July 13.

Blinken had extended the original invitation to Qin while visiting Beijing in June– a trip during which he met with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

US and Chinese officials have held several other high-profile meetings in recent months. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry visited China in July.

Ties between the two countries deteriorated earlier this year after the US accused China of flying a high-altitude spy balloon over its territory. Beijing insisted that the aircraft was a weather balloon that had drifted off course and tensions flared further when US forces shot it down.

Last month, tensions rose again after the tech company Microsoft accused hackers linked to China of accessing the emails of US and other Western officials.

Beijing responded by vehemently denying involvement in the hacking operation and calling the US the “world’s biggest hacking empire and global cyberthief”.

The US and China, which are the world’s two largest economies, have been at odds over numerous issues in recent years, including trade, the status of Taiwan, China’s claims in the South China Sea and an ongoing US push against growing Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific.

But US and Chinese leaders say they are not seeking confrontation or a new Cold War.

After the Chinese diplomat Yang met with US officials in Washington, DC on Monday, the US State Department said the two sides held “a candid, substantive, and productive discussion as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the bilateral relationship”.