Tough talk at first face-to-face US- China meeting of Biden era

China's actions "threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," Blinken said at the opening of the two-day meeting.

FILE: US President Joe Biden speaks during remarks on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan in the State Dining room of the White House in Washington, DC on 15 March 2021. Picture: Eric Baradat/AFP

ANCHORAGE - American and Chinese diplomats were to meet again Friday in Anchorage to discuss relations after a clash in opening statements that laid out the two superpowers' competing views of the world and spelt a difficult period ahead.

The two sides lashed out at each other over human rights and geopolitical ambitions before television cameras in initial comments late Thursday, underscoring the challenge of easing the bilateral chill in the first meetings between the administrations of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden.

The US side, led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accused China of behaviour that endangered global stability.

China's actions "threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," Blinken said at the opening of the two-day meeting.

Yang Jiechi, China's top diplomat, blasted back against Blinken's "condescending" language, accusing him of setting up a show of strength for the cameras in the room.

"When I entered this room, I should have reminded the US side of paying attention to its tone in our respective opening remarks, but I didn't," said Yang, according to a US translation of his remarks in Chinese.

"Isn't this the intention of United States .... that it wants to speak to China in a condescending way from a position of strength?"

FRIGID IN ALASKA

Behind the opening bickering, both sides laid out a laundry list of alleged misbehaviour and provocative actions they accuse the other of.

From China's mistreatment of minority Uighurs, which Washington has labelled genocide, to US discrimination against African Americans, each said the other had no grounds to preach their versions of governance.

And the Chinese side rejected Blinken's claim that talks with "nearly a hundred counterparts" around the world showed that most appreciated the US global role and expressed "deep concern" over Beijing's behaviour on the global stage.

"Between our two countries we've had confrontation in the past, and the result did not serve the United States well," said Yang.

"What did the United States gain from that confrontation? I didn't see any, and the only result was damages done to United States."

Beijing accused the US of an aggressive, undiplomatic approach in receiving guests in frigid Alaska.

"When the Chinese delegation arrived in Anchorage, their hearts were chilled by the biting cold as well as the reception by their American host," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian early Friday.

‘COLD WAR MENTALITY’

The initial parrying underscored the distance between the two global powers. There were no details from the two sessions of closed-door meetings they held following the opening remarks.

A senior US official said the conversation was "substantive, serious, and direct."

A third such session was to take place Friday morning.

The Anchorage meetings came just after Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held talks with counterparts in Japan and South Korea, where geopolitical competition with China was a central topic.

They also attended a summit between leaders of the so-called "Quad", which groups the US, Australia, Japan and India as a check on China's ambitions.

Austin then travelled on to India for meetings Friday over the two countries' growing alliance, which also has a focus on deterring China's expansion of its influence.

After tensions between the two sides soared during Donald Trump's presidency, two months into office, Biden has maintained a tough line on China.

Blinken has said the country represents America's "biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century," and the Pentagon has called the Chinese military's ambitious expansion into the Western Pacific, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean its key strategic challenge.

At Thursday's initial meeting in Anchorage, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that the United States didn't want "conflict," but "we welcome stiff competition."

Yang called on him to "abandon the Cold War mentality," saying Beijing wanted "no confrontation, no conflict."

Besides geopolitics, the list of issues the two sides need to hash out is long.

Commercial relations are fraught over China's huge trade surplus with the United States and high US tariffs slapped on Chines goods by the Trump administration.

Washington accuses China of methodical theft of US commercial secrets and a lack of transparency over the origins of Covid-19.

China, in turn, accuses the US of interfering in its internal affairs and seeking to stem its economic rise.

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