Top American, Chinese Diplomats Clash Publicly at Start of First Talks of Biden Presidency

March 18, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

ANCHORAGE, Alaska—The United States and China leveled sharp rebukes of each others’ policies in the first high-level, in-person talks of the Biden administration on Thursday, with the deeply strained relation between the leader of the free world and the world’s largest communist state on public display during the meeting’s opening session in Alaska.

The United States, which quickly accused China of “grandstanding” and violating the meeting’s protocol, had been looking for a change in behavior from China.

On the eve of the talks, Beijing set its tone going into the meeting, with its ambassador to Washington saying that the United States was full of illusions if it thinks the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will compromise.

Sparring in a highly unusual extended back-and-forth in front of cameras, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan opened their meeting with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Anchorage, fresh off of Blinken’s visits to allies Japan and South Korea.

“We will … discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies,” Blinken said in direct public remarks.

“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.

Yang responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese while the U.S. side awaited translation, lashing out about what he said was the United States’ struggling democracy, its poor treatment of minorities, and criticizing its foreign and trade policies.

“… the U.S. side was not even qualified to say such things, even 20 years or 30 years back, because this is not the way to deal with the Chinese people,” Yang said.

Protocol

Blinken allowed journalists to remain in the meeting room for longer than usual as he responded to Yang’s remarks.

What is typically a few minutes of opening remarks in front of journalists for such high-level meetings lasted for more than an hour.

Sullivan said the United States did not seek conflict with China but would stand up for its principles and friends.

Following the exchange, a senior U.S. administration official said China had immediately “violated” the agreed-to protocol, which was two minutes of opening statements by each of the principals.

“The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official told reporters in Alaska.

The United States would continue with its meeting as planned, the official said, adding that “exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience.”

Before taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden’s resolve to put American interests first when dealing with China had been challenged by Republicans who feared his administration would take too soft an approach with the communist regime. This was particularly so following the New York Post’s reporting on Biden’s son and Hunter Biden’s business interests in China.

While much of Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented under former President Donald Trump, his administration has so far placed an emphasis on liberal democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China’s ruling CCP.

Michael McCaul, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Yang’s conduct showed the CCP had no plans to change its ways.

“Their belligerence and false accusations should serve as a wake-up call to the Biden administration about exactly who they are dealing with,” he said.

‘Pretty Tough’ Conversations

Washington says Blinken’s Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as U.S. outreach to Europe, India, and other partners, shows how the Biden administration has strengthened its hand to confront China since taking office in January.

But the two sides appear primed to agree on very little at the talks, which were expected to run into the Anchorage evening and continue on Friday.

Even the status of the meeting has become a sticking point, with the CCP insisting it is a “strategic dialogue,” harkening back to bilateral mechanisms of years past. The U.S. side has explicitly rejected that, calling it a one-off session.

On the eve of the talks, the United States issued a flurry of actions directed at China, including a move to begin revoking Chinese telecoms licenses, subpoenas to multiple Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns, and updated sanctions on China over a rollback of democracy in Hong Kong.

“We’re expecting much of these conversations will be pretty, pretty tough,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Alaska before the meeting began.

Yang questioned Blinken on Thursday about whether the sanctions were announced ahead of the meeting on purpose.

“Well, I think we thought too well of the United States, we thought that the U.S. side would follow the necessary diplomatic protocols,” he said.

At the same time, the Chinese regime indicated this week that it is set to begin trials of two Canadians detained in December 2018 on spying charges soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms equipment company Huawei Technologies, on a U.S. warrant.

China’s foreign ministry rejected assertions that the timing of the trials was linked to the Anchorage talks.

Meng awaits the outcome of a case that could see her extradited to the United States.

Washington has said it is willing to work with China when it is in the interests of the United States and has cited its policies on addressing projected climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as examples. Blinken said Washington hoped to see China uses its influence with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.

The largest group representing exiled Uyghurs wrote to Blinken urging him to demand that Beijing close its internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where U.N. experts say more than 1 million members of the ethnic group and other ethnic minorities have been held.

Blinken had pledged to raise the issue, his State Department having upheld a Trump administration determination that Beijing was perpetrating genocide in Xinjiang, something the CCP vehemently denies.

By Humeyra Pamuk, Michael Martina, and David Brunnstrom. The Epoch Times contributed to this report.