U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken got a muted reception when he arrived in Beijing: a lone Foreign Ministry official there to meet him and no red carpet, just red lines on the runway that social media users joked were a symbol of China’s unwillingness to compromise on issues like Taiwan.

But as he left, less than 48 hours later, Blinken said the trip had achieved its goal because the two sides had restored some senior-level communications. Chinese President Xi Jinping pronounced the progress as "very good,” warm words from a taciturn leader who held off confirming a meeting with Blinken — the highest-level U.S. official to visit Beijing in five years — until the last minute.

The most positive outcome was the pledge to keep talking, including a plan for Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang to visit Washington in the next few months. U.S. officials such as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and climate envoy John Kerry are also expected to travel to China soon.