ANCHORAGE, Alaska (March 19): Senior US and Chinese officials are set to conclude their talks in Alaska on Friday after a dramatic opening round laid bare the depth of tensions between the world’s two largest economies at the outset of the Biden administration.
The run-up to the talks in Anchorage, which followed visits by US officials to allies Japan and South Korea, was marked by a flurry of moves by Washington that showed it was taking a tough stance, as well as by blunt talk from Beijing warning the United States to discard illusions that it would compromise.
After pointed opening remarks on Thursday from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about China’s challenge to a rules-based international order, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi lashed out with a speech criticizing US democracy, and foreign and trade policies.
The United States accused China of “grandstanding” for its domestic audience, and both sides suggested the other had broken diplomatic protocol.
The rebukes played out in front of cameras, but a senior US administration official told reporters that as soon as media had left the room, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and held substantive, serious, and direct talks.
Blinken and Yang, joined by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, have a final session scheduled in Anchorage at around 9am (1700 GMT).
While much of President Joe Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented by his predecessor Donald Trump, his administration has so far placed a stronger emphasis on democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China.
“I am very proud of the secretary of state,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday morning when asked about the previous day’s meeting.
In recent weeks, top Republicans have given a nod to efforts by Biden, a Democrat, to revitalize relations with US allies in order to confront China, a shift from Trump’s go-it-alone ‘America First’ strategy.
Biden has partially staked his approach on China to rebuilding American domestic competitiveness, and several top Republicans, whose cooperation will be crucial to the success of those plans, backed his administration in the face of the heated exchanges from the first day of talks.
“I have many policy disagreements with the Biden Administration, but every single American should unite against Beijing’s tyrants,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement.
China’s social media carried comments saying Chinese officials were doing a good job in Alaska, and that the US side lacked sincerity.
“My sense is that the administration is testing the question of whether it is possible to get real results from these dialogues,” said Zack Cooper, who researches China at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Dean Cheng at the conservative Heritage Foundation said China’s global influence had grown to the point where it felt it could openly deride the US system.
“That is a vision from the Chinese perspective of, ‘you need me, I don’t need you,” Cheng said.
China on Friday put a Canadian citizen on trial on spying charges, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
The Chinese military also banned Tesla cars from entering its housing complexes, citing security concerns over the cameras installed on the vehicles, according to two people who saw notices of the directive.