Top US and Chinese officials clash at first face-to-face talks since Biden elected

19 March 2021, 11:50 | Updated: 19 March 2021, 12:13

Chinese and US officials clashed at talks in Alaska
Chinese and US officials clashed at talks in Alaska. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Top US and Chinese officials clashed as the two countries met face-to-face for the first time since Joe Biden became president.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and China's most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, took aim at each other's policies at the start of two days of talks in Alaska.

Their angry tone in public suggests the private discussions will be even more rocky.

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The meetings in Anchorage are taking place amid increasingly troubled relations between the two countries.

They are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and China's western Xinjiang region, as well as over Taiwan, China's assertiveness in the South China Sea and the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Blinken said the Biden administration is united with its allies in pushing back against China's increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad.

Mr Yang then listed Chinese complaints about the US and accused Washington of hypocrisy for criticising Beijing on human rights and other issues.

Mr Blinken responded by drawing attention to China's actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and of cyber attacks on the US and economic coercion against America's allies.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken
US secretary of state Antony Blinken. Picture: PA

He said: "Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.

"That's why they're not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today."

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan also voiced criticism, saying China has undertaken an "assault on basic values".

He said: "We do not seek conflict, but we welcome stiff competition."

US national security adviser Jake Sullivan also hit out at China
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan also hit out at China. Picture: PA

Mr Yang then called for America to stop pushing its own version of democracy at a time when the US itself has been struck by domestic discontent.

He accused the US of failing to deal with its own human rights problems and took issue with what he said was "condescension" from Mr Blinken, Mr Sullivan and other US officials.

The Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief said: "We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.

"Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States."

"China will not accept unwarranted accusations from the US side," he added, saying that recent developments had plunged relations "into a period of unprecedented difficulty" that "has damaged the interests of our two peoples.

"There is no way to strangle China," he said.

China's most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi
China's most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi. Picture: PA

Mr Blinken appeared to be annoyed by the tenor and length of the comments, which went on for more than 15 minutes.

He said his impressions from speaking with world leaders and on his recent trip to Japan and South Korea were entirely different from the Chinese position.

"I'm hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we're re-engaged," Mr Blinken retorted. "I'm also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking."

The US state department also blasted the Chinese delegation for violating an agreed upon two-minute time limit for opening statements and suggested it "seem(ed) to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance".

The US and China have been at loggerheads for years, and the Biden administration has yet to signal whether it is ready or willing to back away from the hard-line stances taken under Donald Trump.

Just a day before the meeting, Mr Blinken had announced new sanctions over Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

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