Beijing Needs to Change Course to Improve Sino–US Ties: Senior Administration Officials

March 17, 2021 Updated: March 18, 2021

As Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan go into talks with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska this week, Washington wants to see “deeds, not words” from Beijing if it wants to improve ties, according to senior administration officials.

Blinken and Sullivan are scheduled to meet with China’s foreign minister Wang Yi and senior foreign policy diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18. The meeting will mark the Biden administration’s first major in-person meeting with Chinese officials.

“Beijing has been talking about its desire to change the tone of the [Sino–U.S.] relationship, and of course, we’re going to be looking at deeds, not words on that front,” said one of the two senior administration officials at a briefing on March 16, speaking on background.

“And we’re of course coming to these discussions with a very clear-eyed view about the PRC’s [People’s Republic of China] pretty poor track record of keeping its promises.”

China’s record of broken promises includes its pledges to guarantee Hong Kong and Tibet autonomy, and agreements made allowing it to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001.

Now Tibetans are subjected to mass surveillance and see their Buddhist faith heavily suppressed. In Hong Kong, the local pro-Beijing government is cracking down on local activists and opposition figures. Meanwhile, the Chinese regime has continued to abuse international trade rules with measures such as heavy state subsidies and trade barriers.

Epoch Times Photo
Police detain people as they patrol the area after protesters called for a rally in Hong Kong on Sept. 6, 2020. (Dale De Lay Rey/AFP via Getty Images)

“We’re going to lay down some specific areas where we believe that Beijing does need to take some steps to change course,” said the other senior administration official. For example, she pointed to China’s economic coercion against U.S. allies, including Australia, as something that needs to be changed before the United States “can take substantial steps forward in the relationship.”

Beijing has been retaliating against Australia by imposing sanctions on several Australian products, including beef, lobsters, and wine, ever since Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, called for an independent inquiry into the origin of the CCP virus, also known as the novel coronavirus, in April last year.

In late February, Beijing suddenly decided to use economic coercion against its democratic neighbor Taiwan, by banning the import of Taiwanese pineapples. According to government data, Taiwan exported more than 90 percent of its pineapples to China in 2020.

“Many of the things that China professes are internal matters of concern are of concern to a great number of countries, not just the United States,” the official added, saying that issues such as China’s oppression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong are of “global concern.”

The Chinese regime has often deflected international criticism against its policies by claiming that certain issues, such as its policies in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, are “internal affairs.” These affairs constitute a “red line” that the Biden administration shouldn’t cross, Yang warned at a virtual event on Feb. 1.

In Xinjiang, more than 1 million ethnic Uyghurs are currently detained in concentration camps. Beijing claims these camps are “vocational training centers.”

In January, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Beijing had committed “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Blinken has said he agreed with Pompeo’s declaration.

The senior administration official added that Beijing shouldn’t have any perception or hope that Blinken and Sullivan would speak differently in the meeting than what they’ve said publicly.

“We think it’s really important that we dispel that idea very early and that we’re very clear with delivering the same messages in private that you have heard from us in public,” the official said.

Epoch Times Photo
A facility believed to be a so-called reeducation camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in China’s Xinjiang region, on June 2, 2019. (Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)

She also warned Beijing ahead of the talks not to try to play Blinken against Sullivan.

“We’ve seen a track record from China in the past of attempting to try to play favorites within an administration and, in particular, to play the secretary of state and national security adviser off each other,” the official said.

“The games that China has played in the past to divide us or attempt to divide us are simply not going to work here.”

The official dismissed the idea that the talks would be anything other than a “one-off meeting,” saying, “This is very much about sitting down, getting an understanding of each other, and then taking that back and taking stock.”

“There will not be a joint statement,” she said, adding that the two sides will absolutely talk about cyber issues, though she didn’t elaborate whether the recent cyberattack against Microsoft would be a part of the talks.

Hackers responsible for hacking Microsoft’s Exchange email program have been connected by cybersecurity experts to the Chinese regime. Hundreds of thousands of organizations worldwide are believed to be victims of the attack.

U.S. lawmakers have called on Blinken and Sullivan to be tough on China when they travel to Alaska to meet with Yang and Wang.

On March 16, Blinken visited Japan with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. It was the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet. In Tokyo, Blinken said, “We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way.”

Blinken and Austin arrived in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, on March 17.

Follow Frank on Twitter: @HwaiDer