Blinken Heads to Asia, With China, Russia Tensions Soaring

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Fresh from a meeting with China's top diplomat and a UN Security Council session on Ukraine, Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Central and South Asia next week for international talks that will put him in the same room as his Chinese and Russian counterparts.

The State Department announced late Thursday that Blinken would travel to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan before going to India for a meeting of the Group of 20 foreign ministers from the world's largest industrialized and developing countries, including China and Russia.

The trip comes as tensions have soared between the U.S. and Russia and between the U.S. and China over Russia's war in Ukraine and Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific. And it comes amid an international influence war that all three countries are waging for support.

U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about the prospects for Blinken having sit-down talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang or Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New Delhi. But all three will be present in the Indian capital next week for the G-20 meeting. The State Department has said only that no meetings are scheduled.

The last time the group met -- in Bali, Indonesia, in 2022 -- Blinken held extensive talks with China's then-foreign minister, Wang Yi, that led to a summit between President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Xinping in November.

And Wang, who has since been promoted, met with Blinken last weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in Germany, the first high-level talks since the U.S. shot down a suspected Chinese surveillance balloon and Blinken postponed a much-anticipated trip to Beijing.

A meeting between Blinken and Qin, who was formerly China's ambassador to the U.S., would be their first in Qin's current capacity.

The broader G-20 meeting is expected to focus on food and energy security, especially for developing countries, which have been hit by fallout from the Ukraine conflict. In Bali, a number of nations that have not outright condemned Russia for the war expressed deep concern about its impact on the prices and supply of food and fuel.

Before traveling to Delhi, Blinken will visit the Kazakh capital of Astana for talks with leaders there as well as a meeting of the so-called C5+1 group, which includes the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the United States.

At that meeting, he will stress the U.S. "commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Central Asian countries," the State Department said in a statement that mirrors the language it has been using to support Ukraine against Russia.

Blinken will then go to Tashkent for talks with Uzbek officials.