The US and China began the first high-level in-person talks of the Biden administration in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
As expected, the talks were contentious, and the two sides traded barbs in opening remarks in front of reporters. Blinken set a hostile tone and opened the talks by saying actions by China “threaten” the US-led “rules-based order.”
“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,” he said. “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.”
Sullivan then chimed in and said, “Secretary Blinken laid out many of the areas of concern: from economic and military coercion to assaults on basic values that we will discuss with you today and in the days ahead.” Sullivan said the US does “not seek conflict” but will “always stand up for our principles.”
Yang hit back. “The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries,” he said. “It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China.”
But Yang also offered an olive branch and said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping hope the US and China can cooperate. “The way we see the relationship with the United States is as President Xi Jinping has said, that is we hope to see no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation with the United States,” he said.
According to Reuters, the two sides argued over when to dismiss reporters, and what is usually a few minutes of opening remarks in front of journalists for such high-level meetings lasted for over an hour. A US official speaking with reporters after the exchange accused the Chinese side of “grandstanding.”
Since President Biden came into office, Chinese officials have been calling for better relations with the US after the Trump administration’s hostile China policies left US-China relations at their lowest point in decades. But Biden officials have had nothing but harsh words for China, and in the days leading up to the talks, the US took several measures that guaranteed they would be contentious.
Blinken visited Japan and South Korea with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin earlier this week. While meeting with his Japanese and Korean counterparts, Blinken slammed Beijing, accusing China of using “coercion and aggression” in the region. On Wednesday, the US slapped sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials.
The Anchorage talks are expected to last through Friday night. Judging by how they started, little progress is expected to be made.
Earlier this month, Blinken named China as the “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” He said China is the “only country” with power that threatens the current “international system,” making it clear that Washington sees Beijing as a threat to US global hegemony.