Top US and Chinese officials gave alarmingly different views of each other and the world on Thursday as the two sides met face-to-face for the first time since President Joe Biden took office.
The two-day summit is taking place in Anchorage, Alaska, and right from the start, in unusually pointed public remarks for a diplomatic meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi took aim at each other’s country’s policies.
The contentious tone of their public comments suggested the private discussions would be even less amicable, reports the Associated Press.
Beijing and Washington are at odds over a range of issues from trade to human rights in Tibet, Hong Kong and China’s western Xinjiang region, as well as over Taiwan, China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Blinken said the Biden administration is united with its allies in pushing back against China’s increasing authoritarianism and assertiveness at home and abroad.
Yang then outlined China’s list of complaints about the US and accused Washington of hypocrisy for criticising Beijing on human rights and other issues.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan chimed in by telling the meeting that China is undertaking an “assault on basic values. We do not seek conflict, but we welcome stiff competition”.
Yang responded angrily by demanding the US stop pushing its own version of democracy at a time when it has been torn apart by domestic discontent.
“We believe that it is important for the US to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world,” he said.
“China will not accept unwarranted accusations from the US side,” he said, adding that recent developments had plunged relations “into a period of unprecedented difficulty” that “has damaged the interests of our two peoples”.
Blinken seemed taken aback by the tone and length of the comments, which went on for more than 15 minutes. He said his impressions from speaking with world leaders and on his just-concluded trip to Japan and South Korea were entirely different from the Chinese position.
“I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the US is back, that we’re re-engaged,” Blinken retorted. “I’m also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking.”
Underscoring the animosity, the State Department blasted the Chinese delegation for violating an agreed two-minute time limit for opening statements and suggested it “seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance”.
US-China ties have been torn for years, and the Biden administration has yet to signal whether it’s ready or willing to back away from the hard-line stances taken under Donald Trump.