Wang Yi
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will begin his visit to Washington by meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who traveled to Beijing in June. AFP

China's top diplomat opens talks Thursday in Washington as he readies a potential summit between Presidents Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, who ahead of talks vowed to defend Asian allies.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi is paying a rare high-level to Washington as the world's two largest economies seek to manage, if not resolve, a host of disputes that repeatedly sent tensions soaring in recent years.

Wang will begin his visit by meeting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who traveled to Beijing in June and will welcome his counterpart for a closed-door dinner.

On Friday, he will meet at the White House with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. No meeting has been announced with Biden but an encounter is widely expected after Xi received Blinken in Beijing.

Biden has invited Xi to visit San Francisco next month for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in what would be the leaders' first meeting in a year.

US officials have repeatedly spoken of creating "guardrails" to prevent worst-case scenarios and have sought, without success, to restore contact between the two militaries, even as the powers disagree strongly on issues from trade to Taiwan.

"We're going to compete with China (in) every way according to the international rules -- economically, politically, in other ways. But I'm not looking for conflict," Biden said Wednesday as he welcomed Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

Biden also issued a warning after the Philippines, a treaty-bound ally and former colony of the United States, said Chinese vessels deliberately hit Manila's boats in dispute-rife waters -- an account disputed by Beijing.

"Any attack on Filipino aircraft, vessels or armed forces will invoke our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines," Biden said.

Biden has championed alliances in the face of China's rise. He has forged a new three-way military alliance with Australia and Britain and promoted the "Quad" with Australia, India and Japan.

Biden said that he has previously spoken to Xi about the Chinese leader's concerns, telling him, "No, we're not surrounding China; we're just making sure that the sea lanes remain open."

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning voiced hope that Wang's visit would help put relations with the United States back on the "track of healthy and stable development."

Tensions have been particularly high over Taiwan, the self-ruling democracy claimed by Beijing which over the past year has launched major military exercises in response to actions by US lawmakers.

The United States has stepped up defense support of Taiwan, fearing that China is moving forward on plans to seize the island, although US officials hope that Russia's struggles in Ukraine have given pause to Beijing.

The Biden administration is expected to renew warnings to Wang against China expanding support for Russia and also raise the Middle East, where US ally Israel has been pounding Gaza in response to attacks by Islamist militants Hamas.

China on Wednesday joined Russia in vetoing a US-led resolution at the Security Council which did not call explicitly for a ceasefire.

Washington has sought to turn the tables by pressing Beijing to do more in the region including by pressuring Iran's clerical leadership, which backs Hamas.

The diplomacy with China comes as the United States enters an election season in which Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, who is seeking to return to the White House, has made hawkish criticism of Beijing a signature policy.

US allies, while often critical of China, have largely welcomed diplomacy to keep tensions in check.

Albanese plans to visit China shortly after his state visit to Washington as tensions ease between Canberra and Beijing, which had imposed tariffs on key Australian exports in a show of force over political disputes.

Albanese said it was important to "cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, but engage in our national interest."

"It is in Australia's interests as well as China -- but I believe in the global interest -- for us to have a relationship where there is dialogue," he said.

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