China tried to border its first high-level meeting with the Biden administration as a step towards mending ties. But the US has been clear it wants to rally a worldwide alliance to confront “threats” from Beijing.
A two-day meeting between top US diplomats and high-level Chinese representatives got underway in Alaska on Thursday, capping off a whirlwind week of Asia diplomacy for Washington.
After talks with Japan and South Korea earlier in the week , US Secretary of State Antony Blinken came away with refreshed commitments to a “shared vision” for a “free and open” Indo Pacific, while slamming China for using “coercion and aggression to urge its way.”
In Alaska, Blinken was joined by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for what became an airing of grievances with top Chinese Communist Party diplomat Yang Jiechi and secretary of state Wang Yi.
The White House had said before the talks that the Biden administration’s first high-level, in-person meeting with Chinese representatives was being held from a “position of strength” and “in lockstep” with allies and partners.
At the meeting, Yang said US had a “cold war mentality,” and used its military and economic power to “incite other countries to attack China.”
Blinken accused China of “threatening the rules-based order that maintains global stability” with its policies on Hong Kong , Taiwan and Xinjiang.
The top US diplomat had asked reporters to stay within the room to listen to his response to Yang’s remarks and US criticism of China’s policies. this is often not normal protocol at such high-level talks, which are usually held behind closed doors.
Earlier in the week , Biden administration officials said the talks were aimed toward ensuring Beijing knew that US diplomats would deliver an equivalent tough message privately as they need publicly .
No thaw for frosty US-China relations
China had portrayed the event because the initiative towards a détente, following four years of tension under former US President Donald Trump.
Ahead of the talks, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the Chinese diplomats were “invited by the US for a high-level strategic dialogue,” which seeks to “bring the China-US relationship back to the proper track of sound and steady development.”
However, Blinken rejected that notion ahead of the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week.
“This isn’t a strategic dialogue. There’s no intent at now for a series of follow-on engagements,” he said.
“Those engagements … really need to be supported the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the problems of concern to us with China,” he added.
“China continues to push for what it calls a replacement sort of world power relationship,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the middle for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told DW.
“The ‘strategic dialogue’ frame fits their notion that the US and China are the leading powers that ought to make important decisions together about the planet . The US shouldn’t invest that,” she added.
Biden continues Trump’s position on China
However, at now , “tangible outcomes” from Beijing over Washington’s concerns about human rights, democracy and strategic stability seem faraway .
The US recently slammed Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. This week, the US imposed sanctions on 24 Chinese officials in response to a replacement election law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing. The law would about ensure pro-mainland parties control over the semi-autonomous territory’s leadership.
Blinken also didn’t change the Trump administration’s designation of “genocide” applied to China’s mass-internment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province.
On strategic issues, the US says Beijing continues to defy international admiralty law within the South China Sea by claiming sovereignty over most of the waterways, and build up the People’s Liberation Army to copy these claims.
US military officials also are warning of the threat of military conflict over Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province, and has long been a hot point in US-China relations.
Last week, China’s Foreign Ministry rejected US criticism and demanded Washington “respect China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”
The Biden administration seems like it’ll stay the course on the hardline China policy from the previous administration. However, China’s description of the Alaska talks as a “return to dialogue” indicates Beijing had high hopes the US would soften its policy.
“Part of the heated exchange you’ve got in Alaska was thanks to disappointment on the Chinese side that the US isn’t seeking that route,” Kharis Templeman, a social scientist at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, told DW.
“From their perspective, they think it’s the US that ought to improve the connection . the very fact that the Biden administration isn’t doing that’s upsetting to the Chinese,” he added.
Beijing derides US alliance-building
However, unlike the Trump administration, Biden is confronting China without alienating Washington’s Asian allies at an equivalent time.
Blinken said during Thursday’s talks that countries round the world have a “deep satisfaction that the US is back” and “deep concern” about China’s actions, adding that the administration is “committed to leading diplomatically … and to strengthening the rules-based international order.”
“That system isn’t an abstraction,” he said.
On the eve of Thursday’s talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said it had been “useless” for the US to interact in “microphone diplomacy to rally against and put pressure on China.”
“Beijing will huff and puff, deride and diminish America’s allies. However, they’re acutely conscious of the facility of alliances — it’s one among the explanations they spend such a lot time trying to drive wedges in between relationships,” said Roy Kamphausen, president of the National Bureau of Asian Research in Washington.
“While they relish their own strategic freedom of maneuver unencumbered by alliance relationships, they also know that when America acts together and partnership with its allies, Beijing is disadvantaged. and therefore the CCP really doesn’t like being singled out,” Kamphausen told DW.
Glaser from the CSIS said that this week’s Indo Pacific meetings have sent a sign to Beijing that the US isn’t in decline which Washington’s alliances are strong.
“This provides meat on the bones of a policy that seeks to affect China from an edge of strength,” she said.
However, there’s currently little guarantee that a stronger US-Asia axis will affect how Beijing pursues its interests.
“There may be a lot of labor to be done to create back America and bolster alliances before we will alter China’s assessment that ‘the East is rising and therefore the West is declining,’” Glaser said.