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US wraps up testy China talks

March 20, 2021

Washington and Beijing fail to see eye to eye on a number of key issues such as Hong Kong, Tibet, and the treatment of the Uighur Muslims in China. Chinese diplomats said the US' stance was hypocritical.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, accompanied by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, right, talks to the media after a closed-door morning session of US-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska on Friday, March 19, 2021.
The meeting became undiplomatic at times, with Blinken describing China's response as 'defensive'Image: Frederic J. Brown/AP/picture alliance

The US and China wrapped up two days of tough diplomatic talks on Friday with both sides trading barbs in their first face-to-face meeting since President Joe Biden took office.

Beijing had taken issue with Washington's direct criticism of its human rights record in its opening statements at their meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

The US accused the Chinese delegation of "grandstanding," while China blamed the Americans for a "strong smell of gunpowder and drama."

Alaska Anchorage USA China Gespräche Blinken
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R) speaks as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) looks on during the meeting with ChinaImage: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

"We got a defensive response," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said after the meetings concluded. "We wanted to share with them the significant concerns that we have about a number of the actions that China has taken."

"There are a number of areas where we are fundamentally at odds," he said. "It's no surprise that when we raised issues we got a defensive response, but also we had a very candid conversation and an expansive agenda."

Troubled ties

The two countries failed to see eye to eye on a whole range of issues such as Tibet, North Korea, Hong Kong and the treatment of Uighur Muslims in China's western Xinjiang region.

"Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability," Blinken said of China's actions. "That's why they're not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here."

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National security adviser Jake Sullivan amplified the criticism, saying China has undertaken an "assault on basic values."

Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi accused Washington of hypocrisy on human rights and other issues.

"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 was quoted as saying late on Thursday. "China will not accept unwarranted accusations from the US side."

Blinken appeared to be annoyed by the tenor and length of the comments, which went on for more than 15 minutes.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, speaking later in Beijing, said Blinken and Sullivan had provoked Chinese officials into making a "solemn response" after US officials made "groundless attacks" against China.

Biden continues Trump's hawkish stance

US-China relations have been soured for years.

And there appears no evidence as yet that the Biden administrationis to steer away from the tough stance taken by former President Donald Trump and in part by Barack Obama before that.

US President Joe Biden and China's Xi Jinping
Biden has not shied away from the tough stances of his predecessor.

Just a day before the meeting, Blinken had announced new sanctions over Beijing's crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong. 

Trump often boasted that he had forged a strong relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

But the relationship disintegrated after the coronavirus pandemic spread from the Wuhan province across the globe and unleashed a public health and economic disaster, with Trump frequently seeking to blame China for the pandemic, particularly during the presidential campaign.

jf/msh (AP, Reuters)