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ANCHORAGE: The United States and China leveled sharp rebukes of each other’s policies in the first high-level in-person talks of the Biden administration with deeply strained relations of the two global rivals during a meeting in Alaska.
The United States, which quickly accused China of “grandstanding” and violating the meeting’s protocol, had been looking for a change in behaviour from China, itself having expressed earlier this year a hope to reset sour relations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan opened their meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Anchorage, fresh off of Blinken’s visits to allies Japan and South Korea.
“We will discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies,” Blinken said in blunt public remarks. “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.
Yang responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese while the US side awaited translation, lashing out about what he said was the United States’ struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and criticising its foreign and trade policies.
“The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries,” Yang said. “It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China,” he added.
“Let me say here that in front of the Chinese side, the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength,” Yang said, adding that the “US side was not even qualified to say such things, even 20 years or 30 years back, because this is not the way to deal with the Chinese people.”
Sullivan said the United States did not seek conflict with China, but would stand up for its principles and friends. He touted this year’s Mars rover landing success, and said the United States’ promise was in its ability constantly to reinvent itself.
Following the exchange, a senior US administration official said China had immediately “violated” agreed protocol, which was two minutes of opening statements by each of the principals.
“The Chinese delegation seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official told reporters in Alaska.
The United States would continue with its meeting as planned, the official said, adding that “exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience.”
Before taking office, US President Joe Biden had been attacked by Republicans who feared his administration would take too soft an approach with China. In recent weeks, top Republicans have given the president a gentle nod for revitalising relations with US allies in order to confront China.
Washington says Blinken’s Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since Biden took office in January.
The two sides appear primed to agree on very little at the talks, which were expected to run into the Anchorage evening and continue on Friday.