In Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, the first face-to-face meeting between US and Chinese officials got off to a tense start when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s statement that the Biden administration would bring up “deep concerns” about some of China’s actions around the world was met with immediate pushback from Chinese counterparts, sparking an unusually public exchange of diplomatic barbs.
By the evening, the Chinese had accused the US delegation of speaking in a “condescending” way, while a US official said Beijing’s representatives seemed “bent on grandstanding.”
The meeting rapidly deviated from the traditional diplomatic throat clearing that happens in front of the cameras before the real meetings begin. As the two sides exchanged unexpectedly heated remarks, Blinken brought the cameras back to counter the Chinese officials’ remarks — especially their jabs at US democracy — triggering an unprecedented chain of rebuttals as each side reacted to the other’s remarks.
As the Biden team grapples with an ascendant and increasingly assertive China abroad while facing severe domestic challenges that Beijing will continue to exploit as it attempts to underscore US vulnerability, the clash demonstrated that the partnership Blinken has dubbed “the biggest geopolitical test of the twenty-first century.”
Following the public interaction, a senior US administration official said that the Chinese seemed to arrive with an emphasis on “public theatrics and dramatics over substance.”
In a statement to the traveling press, they said, “They made it clear by immediately breaking protocol; we had agreed to brief (two-minute) opening statements by each principal.” Although Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan kept their opening remarks within that time limit, the Chinese delegation spoke for more than 20 minutes as the discussion became increasingly tense.
“The United States delegation came to Anchorage committed to laying out the principles, interests, and values that animate our engagement with Beijing,” the official said. “We have continued on with our planned presentation, knowing that exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience.”
“We still have a lot of business to conduct. We will use the remaining hours to outline for the Chinese delegation in private the same messages we have consistently delivered in public,” they said.
Blinken had previously stated that the US intends to protect the country “Chinese activities in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as cyber attacks on the US and economic manipulation of US allies, “threaten the rules-based order that preserves global stability,” according to the study. That’s why these aren’t just internal problems, and why we feel compelled to bring them up today.”
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, retaliated, warning the US against intervening in China’s “internal affairs,” disputing the US right to speak for other countries, accusing the US of being the “champion” of cyber attacks, mocking US domestic peace, and questioning America’s own human rights record.
“We believe it is important for the United States to change its reputation and avoid promoting its own democracy around the world,” Yang said in his lengthy opening remarks. “Many people in the United States currently have no faith in the United States’ democracy,” Yang said. “According to opinion polls, China’s leaders enjoy widespread support among the Chinese people.
“The US does not represent the country, it just represents the government of the United States,” Yang said, before State Councilor Wang Yi chimed in, saying China would not tolerate “the unwarranted allegations from the US side.”
In calls with nearly 100 colleagues, the top US diplomat said he was “hearing a sense of relief that the US is back, that we’ve reconnected with our allies and partners. I’m also getting a lot of criticism about some of your government’s decisions.”