The United States and China expressed sharp reprimands about each other’s policies in the first high-level personal talks on the Biden administration on Thursday, with deeply strained relations between the two global rivals on rare public display during the meeting’s opening session in Alaska.
The United States is looking for China to change its behavior if it wants to restore sour relations, but Beijing has said that Washington is full of illusions if it thinks it will compromise.
Sparring in an unusually back and forth in front of cameras, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan began their meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Prime Minister Wang Yi in Anchorage, fresh after Blinken’s visit to allied Japan and South Korea.
“We will … discuss our deep concern over China’s actions, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks against the United States, economic coercion by our allies,” Blinken said in unusually blunt public comments at the summit.
“Each of these measures threatens the rules-based regime that maintains global stability,” he said.
Yang responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese while the US side waited for translation and dismissed what he said was US fighting democracy and poor treatment of minorities.
“The United States uses its military strength and financial hegemony to exercise long-arm jurisdiction and oppress other countries,” Yang said.
“It abuses so-called national security notions to prevent normal trade and urge some countries to attack China,” he added.
Apparently surprised by Yang’s remarks, Blinken kept journalists in the room so he could respond.
Sullivan said the United States did not seek conflict with China but would stand up for principles and friends. He spoke of the United States’ recent success for the Mars Rover landing and said that the country’s success was its ability to constantly invent itself.
Washington says that the Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials and the visit of Europe, India and other partners shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since President Joe Biden took office in January.
But both sides appear to be prepared to agree on very little during the talks, which were expected to run into the Anchorage evening and continue on Friday.
Even the status of the meeting has become a fixed point, with China insisting that it is a “strategic dialogue”, returning to bilateral mechanisms from previous years. The American side has explicitly rejected this and called it a one-time session.
Prior to the talks, the United States issued a set of measures aimed at China, including a move to begin withdrawing Chinese telecom licenses, lawsuits against several Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns and updated sanctions against China over a return to democracy in Hong Kong.
“We expect a lot of these talks to be pretty, pretty tough,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Alaska before the meeting began.
Washington has said it is willing to cooperate with China in the interests of the United States, citing the fight against climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as examples. On Thursday, Blinken said that Washington hoped that China would use its influence with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.
China has announced plans to launch a lawsuit against two Canadians detained in December 2018 on espionage charges shortly after Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of telecom equipment company Huawei Technologies, on a US order.
China’s foreign ministry said the timing of the trials had nothing to do with the Anchorage talks.
Beijing has demanded a restoration of ties, now at its lowest in decades.
The largest group representing exiled Uighurs has written to Blinken, urging him to demand that Beijing close its detention camps in the Xinjiang region, where UN experts say more than a million members of the ethnic group and other Muslim minorities have been held.
Blinken had promised to raise the issue, his State Department has upheld a Trump administration decision that Beijing commits genocide in Xinjiang, something China vehemently denies.
Yang said Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan were all inseparable parts of Chinese territory, and China strongly opposed US intervention in its internal affairs. The United States should handle its own affairs and China its own, he said.
“As we see the relationship with the United States is, as President Xi Jinping has said, it is we hope that we do not see any confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation with the United States.”