US, China strained relations on display in first talks of Biden presidency

Beijing has said Washington is full of illusions if it thinks it will compromise.

Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden reacts during a televised townhall on CNN dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, California, US October 10, 2019.  (photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE)
Democratic 2020 US presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden reacts during a televised townhall on CNN dedicated to LGBTQ issues in Los Angeles, California, US October 10, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE)
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 deeply strained relations of the two global rivals on rare public display during the meeting's opening session in Alaska.
The United States is looking for China to change its behavior if it wants to reset sour relations, but Beijing has said Washington is full of illusions if it thinks it will compromise.
Sparring in an unusually extended back-and-forth in front of cameras, US 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 unusually blunt public remarks at the top of the first meeting.
"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 US side awaited translation, lashing out about what he said was the United States' struggling democracy and poor treatment of minorities.
"The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries," Yang said.
"It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China," he added.
Apparently taken aback by Yang's remarks, Blinken held journalists in the room so he could respond.
Sullivan said the United States did not seek conflict with China, but would stand up for principles and friends. He touted the United States' recent Mars rover landing success, and said the country's success was its ability constantly reinvent itself.
Washington says the Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since President Joe Biden took 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 China insisting it is a "strategic dialog," harkening back to bilateral mechanisms of years past. The US 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 US administration official told reporters in Alaska before the meeting began.
Washington has said it is willing to work with China when it is in the interests of the United States and has cited the fight against climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as examples. On Thursday, Blinken said Washington hoped to see China uses its influence with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.
China has indicated 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 US warrant.
China's foreign ministry said the timing of the trials had nothing to do with the Anchorage talks.
Beijing has called for a reset to ties, now at their lowest in decades.
The largest group representing exiled Uighurs has written to Blinken urging him to demand that Beijing close its internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where U.N. experts say that more than 1 million members of the ethnic group and other Muslim 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 China vehemently denies.
Yang said Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan were all inseparable parts of Chinese territory and China firmly opposed US interference in its internal affairs. The United States should handle its own affairs and China its own, he said.
"The way we see the relationship with the United States is as President Xi Jinping has said, that is we hope to see no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation with the United States."