WASHINGTON — The US Department of Transportation has granted Chinese airlines permission to increase their weekly round-trip flights to the US from eight to 12, equalizing the number of flights that US carriers operate to China. This decision comes amidst ongoing efforts to stabilize the strained relationship between the two nations.

Beijing had been urging the US to approve the expansion, aiming to promote tourism and attract foreign investment following the abandonment of its zero-Covid policy last year. However, a disagreement concerning Chinese airlines' ability to fly over Russia, which provides them with a cost advantage over US carriers, had stalled progress.

This move signifies a slight improvement in the US-China relationship, which has reached its lowest point since diplomatic ties were established in 1979. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted that Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping agreed to "set a floor" under the relationship during their November meeting. Still, the situation deteriorated further after a suspected Chinese spy balloon was detected over the US in February.

Negotiations are ongoing regarding potential visits to China by US cabinet officials. While US carriers had opposed approving additional flights for their Chinese competitors, American Airlines CEO Robert Isom emphasized the importance of a level playing field, calling for US airlines to operate in China without incurring higher fuel costs or longer flight durations compared to Chinese rivals.