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A big Chinese delegation unnerves U.S. diplomats in Davos

A U.S. ambassador wants to make sure Secretary of State Antony Blinken sees a Swiss official, too.

By Nahal Toosi

January 15, 2024

DAVOS, Switzerland — U.S. diplomats have been so worried about the size and intent of a Chinese delegation in Switzerland this week that they’re trying to arrange a meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken with a Swiss official while he’s in the country for the World Economic Forum.

The discussion about adjusting Blinken’s schedule was laid out in a State Department document obtained by POLITICO.

The suggestion appears to be an effort to ensure that famously neutral Switzerland doesn’t feel jaded by Washington amid potential wooing by Beijing. It comes as U.S.-Chinese tensions are rising once more over the fate of Taiwan, which drew Beijing’s ire over the weekend by electing a president whose party has called for independence from China.

The Chinese delegation is expected to spend time in the Swiss capital, Bern, and Davos, the scene of this week’s forum. Blinken will be in Davos on Tuesday and Wednesday, holding an array of meetings and delivering at least one public speech to the crowd, which is heavy on business leaders.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang, often described as the No. 2 to paramount leader Xi Jinping, is leading the delegation from Beijing.

Beijing “will have 10 state ministers in attendance,” according to the State Department document, which is dated Jan. 12. “Their #2 will have a meeting with Swiss leaders. Amb. Miller characterized it as a ‘pseudo state visit.’” (That appears to be a reference to Scott Miller, the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland.)

The document goes on: “Miller believes it would be bad optics if S doesn’t at least have a handshake with new Pres of Swiss Confederation, Viola Amherd, who has made herself completely available for a meeting.” “S” is State Department shorthand for the secretary.

A spokesperson for the State Department said Sunday that a Blinken meeting with a Swiss official is expected but did not comment further on the document or other specifics of the schedule. The spokesperson was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive planning issues.

The secretary’s schedule is always tentative and could shift. In fact, the document points out that for Blinken, Davos is a “complicated trip for schedule and logistics; several different venues and moving parts.”

At least as of the date of the State Department document, no Chinese official was being made available to see Blinken while he’s in Davos.

Although the United States has congratulated the democratic island on its election, President Joe Biden also said his administration does not support Taiwan formally declaring independence from China.

A U.S. official familiar with the matter said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may meet Monday with Chinese officials in Bern. The official was granted anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

The document states that, while in Davos, Blinken is set to meet with Zelenskyy; European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen; and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, among others.



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