ANCHORAGE: In a rare demonstration that emphasised the degree of bilateral hostility, the first high-level US-China discussions of the Biden administration got off to a heated start on Thursday.
The run-up to the meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, was marked by a flurry of moves by Washington that showed it was taking a tough stance against the blunt talk from Beijing.
“We will… discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; cyber attacks on the United States; and economic coercion of our allies.” Foreign Affairs Chief in the United States
In a rare and lengthy exchange in front of cameras, Antony Blinken informed his Chinese colleagues what they needed to know.
“Each of these actions threatens the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.
Relations between the two countries had deteriorated significantly under the previous president, Donald Trump, but the Biden administration has made it clear that it is hoping for a shift in behaviour from China.
As the US side waited for translation, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, delivered a 15-minute address in Mandarin in which he lashed out at the United States for what he said was its faltering democracy, its terrible treatment of minorities, and its criticism of China’s foreign and economic policies.
“The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries,” said Yang.
“It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges and incite some countries to attack China,” he added. “Grandstanding” and Violation of Protocol.
US National Security Adviser John Sullivan and other members of the group swapped notes back and forth while listening to Yang’s speech. After the press conference came to a close, Blinken kept the reporters inside so he could provide his response.
More than an hour was spent on what would normally take a few minutes of opening statements in front of journalists for such high-level discussions, and the two delegations argued about when the media should be taken out of the room.
U.S. officials were criticised by Chinese state media for speaking for too long and being “inhospitable,” while Chinese media were criticised by U.S. officials for accusing China of “grandstanding.”
U.S. officials said that the two countries had agreed to allow two minutes apiece for the principals to make opening speeches, but that this had been broken.
“The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the representative told media at the Anchorage hotel where the meeting was taking place.
“Exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience,” the official added.
A lot of Chinese people on the internet have said that they like what the Chinese government is doing in Alaska and that the US has shown no seriousness at all.
Others have even compared the meetings to the infamous “Hongmen Banquet” from two thousand years ago, when one rebel leader invited another to a feast before killing him.
Despite this, the two sides met again on Thursday night, with a senior official from the Biden administration describing the initial discussion as “substantive, serious, and direct” and lasting much longer than the two hours authorised.
“We used the session, just as we had planned, to outline our interests and priorities, and we heard the same from our Chinese counterparts,” the official said in the pool report, adding that a third session of talks was scheduled for Friday morning.
While much of Biden’s China strategy, such as how to deal with the tariffs on Chinese products introduced under Trump, is still being worked out, his administration has so far put a higher focus on democratic norms and charges of human rights violations by China.
China is very against the United States because it meddles in what Beijing considers to be its own business.
Washington says that since Biden took office in January, the U.S. is better prepared to deal with China because of Blinken’s trip to Asia before his meeting with Chinese officials and U.S. efforts to reach out to Europe, India, and other allies.
Even so, it didn’t seem likely that the two sides would agree on much during the negotiations.
Even the meeting’s name proved contentious; China insisted it be called a “strategic dialogue,” a term that recalls bilateral arrangements of yesteryear. The Americans said no, insisting that the meeting was an isolated incident.
The United States released a slew of moves on the day of the talks, including a plan to begin revoking Chinese telecommunications licences, subpoenas to various Chinese information technology firms over national security concerns, and new penalties on China for a rollback of democracy in Hong Kong.
On Thursday, Yang asked Blinken whether the penalties were disclosed before the meeting on purpose.
The United States government has shown a willingness to cooperate with China on issues such as climate policy and the coronavirus epidemic. Blinken said that the US wanted China to put pressure on North Korea so that it would stop making nuclear weapons.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that there was a chance that the meeting could turn into an exchange of accusations and demands.
As Glaser put it, “neither side wins” from labeling this conference a failure.