China issues stark warning to US during heated talks at first-ever meeting under Joe Biden presidency
In the two months that he has been in office, President Joe Biden has found some big challenges to meet in the realm of foreign policy. While Iran and North Korea have snubbed his administration’s outreach and Russia has recalled its ambassador to the US after Biden called his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a “killer”, China has also made it evident that it is in no mood to lightly deal with the leader of the free world. The Democrat has already shown his strong intent to deal with the Chinese by recently holding a virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, Japan and India and now, top security advisers from both sides saw themselves in the middle of a tense exchange in their first face-to-face meeting in Alaska on Thursday, March 18.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office Yang Jiechi in Anchorage for the two-day talks. There, the top American officials expressed the current administration’s “deep concerns” about China’s activities in Hong Kong and Taiwan besides cyber attacks on the US and trade coercion against Washington’s allies. The US officials even accused Beijing of conducting “genocide” against the Uighur Muslims on Xinjiang.
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“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” Blinken said, adding: “That’s why they’re not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.” He also said there would be dialogue on “Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion toward our allies”.
'China opposes US interference in its internal matters'
Beijing’s representatives hit back at America’s charges at once with Yang saying: “China is firmly opposed to US interference in China’s internal affairs. We have expressed our staunch opposition to such interference, and we will take firm actions in response.” He spoke for 16 minutes, much over the time that was stipulated ahead of the talks, lashing out at what he said was America’s struggling democracy and its controversial treatment of minorities and slammed Washington’s foreign and trade policies. The Chinese Communist Party’s top diplomatic official said: “The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries.”
“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: " … 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."
Wang, on the other hand, criticized Washington’s latest sanctions against senior Chinese officials over what the latter considers Beijing’s suppression of Hong Kong’s freedoms. The sanctions slapped on 24 officials from Hong Kong and mainland China as a retaliation to Beijing’s crackdown on political freedoms in HK on the eve of the talks. Wang said it was not the best of ways to welcome guests.
Blinken fired back at the Chinese side saying: “I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged. I’m also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking.” He even asked the journalists to remain in the meeting room for a longer duration as he responded to Yang. The secretary of state recently raised concerns about China's conduct during a trip to Japan and South Korea, two of the US's closest allies in the Far East and adversaries of China.
Sullivan said the US did not want to get into a conflict with China but at the same time, would abide by its principles and allies. He cited this year’s Mars rover landing success and said America’s promise lied in its ability to reinvent itself continuously.
The US side also blasted China after the talks over its alleged violation of the agreed-upon two-minute opening statement. A senior US administration official told reporters in Alaska: “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance.” The official, however, promised that the US would continue with its meeting as per the schedule and said “exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience”.
Ahead of the meeting, Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, who reached Anchorage on Wednesday, March 17, gave enough indication that Beijing was not in a mood to compromise despite the relations between the two nations taking a plunge. “If anyone believes that the Chinese delegation travels to Alaska…just to give in and make compromises, then I would suggest to my colleagues in Beijing to cancel their trip. Why bother coming?” Tiankai was quoted as saying.
What the experts feel about the US-China talks?
What were the experts thinking about the not-so-smooth opening to the high-level talks? Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, said the talks would see a limited impact. “They will probe whether there is common ground on some issues and whether there are ways to manage and even narrow their differences,” she told AFP. “Expectations should remain low. A reset of the relationship is not in the cards,” a less optimistic Glaser added.
Lu Xiang, an expert in US studies with Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, was not impressed with Washington’s decision to sanction Chinese officials over Hong Kong. Xiang said it was like “a host spitting on the table when inviting a guest for dinner”, China's Global Times reported. It also cited Chinese experts as saying that the Chinese delegation in Anchorage has at least one task to accomplish -- to make the US clearly understand Beijing’s “unshakable determination regarding its core interests, as the new US administration knows that China won't make any compromises, but it might not understand how China would act and how serious it could be in protecting its sovereignty and core interests”, the Times added.
The three most contentious issues that the US and Chinese officials are set to talk on during the two-day event include: Uighur, Hong Kong and China’s trade retaliation against Australia.