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The strained US-China partnership will be put to the test at a meeting in Alaska.

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The strained US-China partnership will be put to the test at a meeting in Alaska.
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The strained US-China partnership will be put to the test at a meeting in Alaska.

The strained US-China partnership will be put to the test at a meeting in Alaska.

 

When top officials from both countries meet in Alaska, their increasingly strained ties will be put to the test once again.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have been strained for years, and the Biden administration has yet to signal that it is ready or able to reverse President Donald Trump’s hard-line stances. China has also made no suggestion that it is ready to ease the strain it has applied. As a result, the stage has been set for a tense first face-to-face meeting on Thursday.

In Anchorage, Alaska, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with China’s top diplomats, State Councilor Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party foreign relations head Yang Jiechi. Trade, human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong, China’s western Xinjiang region, Taiwan, Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic are all expected to be contentious topics.

There will be no settlements reached.

“This is a one-time meeting,” a senior administration official said. “This is not the start of a negotiation phase or the resumption of a specific dialogue mechanism.” On the condition of anonymity, the official briefed reporters ahead of the conference.

Blinken will attend the meeting after recently returning from Japan and South Korea, where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promoted the Biden administration’s commitment to Asia’s treaty allies.

Blinken announced fresh sanctions on officials the day before the meeting in response to China’s crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. As a result, China’s rhetoric against US intervention in domestic affairs has become more strident.

China, predictably, slammed US criticism of a decision to grant a pro-Beijing committee the power to nominate more of Hong Kong’s legislators, essentially reducing the proportion of those directly elected and ensuring that only those willing to be genuinely loyal to Beijing are eligible to run for office, effectively locking out opposition figures from the political process.

At a regular briefing on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the imposition of sanctions “completely exposes the US side’s sinister intention to intervene in China’s internal affairs, disrupt Hong Kong, and impede China’s stability and growth.”

The White House has low hopes for Blinken and Sullivan’s meeting, which officials hope would be a first step toward resolving their deep differences.

The talks, according to a senior administration official, are an opportunity for the two sides to “take stock” of their relationship. According to the official, the two sides will not issue a joint statement following the meeting, and no significant announcements are planned.

In comments to Chinese media on Wednesday, China’s ambassador to the United States downplayed hopes for the Alaska meeting, but expressed hope that it would pave the way for better communication.

Cui Tiankai said in a transcript of his remarks posted on the embassy’s website, “Naturally, we don’t anticipate one round of dialogue to address all of the problems between China and the United States, and we don’t hold excessively high expectations.”

“My hope is that this will be the beginning of a candid, positive, and practical dialogue between the two sides,” Cui said. “I assume this exchange will be good if we can achieve that.”

Before traveling to South Korea and Alaska, Blinken said in Japan that the US “will fight back if necessary when China uses intimidation or violence to get its way.”

“Our relationship with China is extremely complicated,” he said. “It has adversarial elements, competitive elements, and cooperative elements. But the common denominator in dealing with both of them is to ensure that we approach China from a position of power, which begins with our alliance, with our unity, because it is truly a unique advantage that we have that China does not.”

The Chinese are not going down without a fight.

They blasted the US human rights record at the United Nations on Wednesday, citing “hundreds of thousands of lives” lost as a result of US failures against COVID-19, as well as racial inequality, police violence, and a “evil history of genocide.” Jiang Duan, a counselor at the Chinese mission in Geneva, made the remarks at the conclusion of a U.N. Human Rights Council hearing on the United States’ human rights record.

Before participating in high-level talks with China, the administration held a series of talks with Pacific partners, including Biden’s virtual summit with the representatives of the Quad — Australia, India, Japan, and the United States.

Trump had prided himself on forging a close partnership with Xi Jinping. The partnership fell apart after the coronavirus pandemic spread from Wuhan province to the rest of the world, wreaking havoc on public health and the economy.

Biden faces other thorny problems in the relationship, in addition to pushing back on China’s aggressiveness in the Indo-Pacific and its human rights record.

However, he has so far refused to rescind Trump’s tariffs against China, which totaled hundreds of billions of dollars, or to lift the bans on Chinese software.

Biden, on the other hand, is seeking China’s support in pressuring North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over his country’s nuclear program.

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