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Negotiations ongoing for Blinken meeting with Chinese official in Munich

U.S. and Chinese officials have spent the last few days locked in last-minute negotiations to broker a meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of this weekend’s Munich Security Conference, according to three people familiar with those efforts.

Beijing’s condition that the U.S. formally request the meeting had slowed progress in the talks, said a Washington, D.C.-based diplomat with knowledge of the discussions.

“It’s a two-way discussion to land a meeting,” the diplomat said, adding that the Biden administration “won’t bend the knee” to get the meeting.

Another Washington, D.C.-based diplomat with knowledge of the talks said Blinken had requested a meeting but “had no response from China” as he boarded his flight for Munich on Thursday.

Bloomberg first reported on Monday thatBlinken was considering meeting with Wang at the conference, which opened Friday and continues through Sunday.

But there are signs that Blinken is operating under the assumption that a Munich meeting with Wang Yi is highly likely. “Some of the officials who would need to be there for such a meeting left with Blinken to Munich in anticipation of a potential meeting,” said a third Washington, D.C.-based diplomat familiar with the trip’s participants. All three diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to give public statements about the negotiations.

Neither the State Department nor the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., responded to a request for comment.

The meeting would be the first face-to-face attempt by the Biden administration to address the Chinese spy balloon the U.S. shot down off the coast of South Carolina a week ago.

The potential meeting carries political risk for President Joe Biden, who is trying to balance his administration’s desire to maintain “open lines of communication” with Beijing amid a widening bipartisan uproarabout what both a House and aSenate resolution have declared was a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty.

Already tense relations have only been souring since the Pentagon revealed the balloon’s presence over the northwestern U.S. earlier this month. Blinkenpostponed his originally planned Feb. 5-6 trip to Beijing in response to the incursion. Biden said on Thursdaythat he’d make “no apologies” for the balloon’s destruction and that he’d be speaking to Chinese leader Xi Jinping to “get to the bottom” of the incident.

The Chinese government has insisted the balloon was a civilian airship for meteorological purposes and has criticized its destruction as “a trigger-happy overreaction.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin signaled a softening in Beijing’s position called on Thursday by calling for bilateral ties to shift to “the track of sound and steady development.”

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