US and Chinese diplomats clashed in their first face-to-face talks since President Joe Biden took office, with both countries digging in on a list of issues on which they diverge broadly as the meeting opened in Alaska.
China’s actions “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at the opening of the two-day meeting in Anchorage.
The US side will “discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including Xinjiang,” where Washington has accused Beijing of “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims, Mr Blinken told the Chinese Communist Party’s top diplomacy official, Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
He added that there would be dialogue on “Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion toward our allies.”
Beijing was equally sharp in its response.
“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,” Mr Yang warned.
US, China set to broach icy relations in Alaska talks
Mr Wang denounced the latest US sanctions against senior Chinese officials over what Washington considers Beijing’s quashing of Hong Kong’s freedoms, announced on the eve of the talks.
“This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests,” Mr Wang said.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing remain high after relations were pitched into turmoil during Donald Trump’s presidency, which saw a damaging trade war and spats over everything from defence to tech and rights in Hong Kong.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan (R) speaks as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) looks on at the opening session of US-China talks
With its remote Pacific location, Anchorage was considered a more neutral meeting ground than Washington or Beijing for the three-session talks that finish this morning.
But expectations are limited on both sides and the tone set by the opening statement confirmed the depth of the divide between the rivals.
Mr Biden has maintained a tough line on China, and Mr Blinken has said it represents the US’s “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.”
Still, the Biden team has said it wants to engage diplomatically on the world stage, in a pivot from Mr Trump’s isolationist stance, particularly on issues such as climate change, the pandemic and the non-proliferation of weapons.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the United States did not want “conflict,” but “we welcome stiff competition.”
Mr Yang called on him to “abandon the Cold War mentality,” saying Beijing wanted “no confrontation, no conflict.”
But visibly stung by the American accusations, he reproached the United States at length, demanding Washington “stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world”.
Mr Blinken responded: “I have to tell you what I’m hearing is very different from what you described. I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged with our allies and partners.
“I’m also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking,” he added.
A senior Biden administration official in Anchorage accused the Chinese delegation of “grandstanding,” and said it was “focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance”.
Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the talks would have 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.”
The Chinese delegation led by Yang Jiechi (C), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office and Wang Yi (2nd L), China’s Foreign Minister
Yesterday’s meeting follows a visit Mr Blinken made to Japan and South Korea, two key US allies in the Asia-Pacific region.
While in Tokyo, Mr Blinken warned China against using “coercion and destabilising behaviour.”
Mr Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also attended a key summit between leaders of the so-called Quad alliance, which groups the US, Australia, Japan and India as a check on China’s ambitions.
Mr Blinken and allies have criticised China on a slew of issues, including the erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong, tensions around Taiwan and Tibet, the treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang, Beijing’s sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea, the theft of intellectual property and a lack of transparency over the origins of Covid-19.

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