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The first high-level talks between the United States and China since President Joe Biden took office are off to a rocky start. What was originally planned to be a four-minute photo session quickly descended into a back-and-forth of accusations and counterattacks that lasted well over an hour. Both sides repeatedly calling the reporters back into the room so they could add their rebuttals.
This departure from traditional diplomatic protocol is illustrative of the deep divide that remains despite the change of leadership in the White House. Any prediction that Biden would take a more measured approach towards diplomacy with China was crushed yesterday. Not to mention that Biden has not repealed a single one of Trump’s policies regarding China as of yet.
What were the accusations?
In a frank and direct opening statement, the newly appointed Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said the US would “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”. He further added that “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability”.
However, China argues that matters relating to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang are subject to domestic and not foreign policy and expects all foreign powers to stay out of its internal affairs.
In response, Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party, fired back that the United States does not represent global public opinion. He further elaborated that as far as cyber-attacks are concerned, the US is the leading “champion”.
“We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world,” he said. “Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States.” citing the killing of black Americans and the Black Lives Matter movement.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan responded to Jiechi by saying that “a confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve, and that is the secret sauce of America.”
Was it all just for show?
Despite all the posturing and grandstanding that the two parties exhibited (and accused one another of), a senior U.S administration official who wished to remain nameless said that earlier talks that were held in private were “substantive, serious and direct.”
The two delegations will meet again on Friday after concluding the second of three planned closed-door sessions.
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