Top US and Chinese officials are expected to meet again on Friday after their first face-to-face talks since President Joe Biden took office, in which they expressed sharply divergent views on each other and the world.
Following the opening on Thursday, the two sides exchanged barbs, with the US accusing the Chinese delegation of “grandstanding” for domestic consumption in China, and Beijing retaliating on Friday, alleging the room had a “heavy smell of gunpowder and drama” that was entirely the fault of the Americans.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign relations head Yang Jiechi traded jabs at each other’s countries’ policies in unusually sharp remarks for a staid diplomatic conference. The acrimonious tone of their public statements hinted that the private conversations would be even more tumultuous.
The meetings in Anchorage, which will end on Friday, were a new test in increasingly strained ties between the two countries, which are at odds over a variety of issues ranging from trade to human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong, and China’s western Xinjiang region, as well as Taiwan, China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Blinken reported that the Biden administration is working together with its allies to fight China’s rising authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad. Yang then laid out a laundry list of Chinese grievances against the United States, accusing the US of hypocrisy for condemning Beijing on human rights and other issues.
China’s activities in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as cyber attacks on the US and economic coercion against US allies, all challenge the rules-based order that keeps the world stable, according to Blinken. “That’s why these aren’t just internal problems, and why we feel compelled to put them up here today.”
China has engaged in a “attack on fundamental principles,” according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
“We don’t want war, but we do love a good fight,” he said.
Yang retaliated furiously, demanding that the US stop promoting its own version of democracy at a time when the country is experiencing domestic unrest. He also accused the US of failing to resolve its own human rights concerns, and he chastised Blinken, Sullivan, and other US officials for what he termed “condescension.”
He said, “We believe it is important for the United States to change its appearance and avoid promoting its own democracy in the rest of the world.” “Many people in the United States have no faith in the country’s democracy.”
“China will not embrace unjustified claims from the United States,” he said, adding that recent events had thrown ties “into an extraordinary period of difficulty” that had “harmed the interests of our two peoples.”
He said, “There is no way to strangle China.”
The tone and length of the comments, which lasted more than 15 minutes, seemed to irritate Blinken. He said that his experiences from speaking with world leaders and his recent trip to Japan and South Korea were diametrically opposite to China’s stance.
Blinken retorted, “I’m hearing deep happiness that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged.” “I’m also getting a lot of concern about some of your government’s actions.”
The State Department blasted the Chinese delegation for breaching a two-minute time limit for opening remarks, saying it “seemed(ed) to have arrived bent on grandstanding, based on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” underscoring the enmity.
“America’s strategy will be underpinned by trust in our dealings with Beijing — which we are doing from a position of power — as well as the humility to recognize that we are a nation that is forever aspiring to become a more perfect union,” it stated.
Later in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Blinken and Sullivan had provoked Chinese officials to respond with a “solemn response” after US officials made “baseless attacks” against China.
“Because it was the United States that sparked the dispute in the first place, the two sides had a heavy odor of gunpowder and intrigue from the start of their opening remarks. Zhao told reporters at a regular briefing that this was not the Chinese side’s original plan.
Despite the acrimonious public airing of disagreements, a senior Biden administration official said the initial closed-door talks were “substantive, urgent, and straightforward” and lasted much longer than the two hours scheduled.
Links between the United States and China have been strained for years, and the Biden administration has yet to signal whether it is ready or able to reverse Donald Trump’s hard-line policies.
Blinken had just declared fresh sanctions against Beijing for its crackdown on pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong the day before the conference. As a result, China increased its rhetoric opposing US intervention in domestic affairs and expressed its displeasure directly.
“Was this a strategic decision by the US to achieve an edge in dealing with China?” Wang Yi, the State Councilor, inquired. “Obviously, this was miscalculated, and it only represents the insecurity and weakness within the US; it will not sway China’s stance or resolve on those issues.”
Trump had prided himself on forging a close friendship with Chinese President 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.