Top diplomats from the United States and China on Thursday clashed over policies and their countries' standing in their first in-person meeting since the change in U.S. administration, underscoring the intensifying rivalry between the world's two largest economies.
Hourlong tense exchanges that were open to the media marked the start of what is expected to be a two-day meeting in Alaska between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the U.S. side and China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
China has been eager to normalize the bilateral relations that plummeted to their lowest point in decades under the previous U.S. administration of Donald Trump, which increased confrontation on numerous fronts including trade practices, technology, human rights issues, the crackdown on Hong Kong and threats to Taiwan.
But Blinken made clear that the administration of President Joe Biden, who took office in January, will not hold back from raising thorny issues.
"We will...discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang (against the Muslim Uyghur minority), Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies," he said at the outset of the talks.
"Each of these actions threatens the rules-based order that maintains global stability. That's why they're not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today," he added.
Yang fired back, emphasizing that China is firmly opposed to U.S. interference in "internal affairs" and calling Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet an "inalienable part of China's territory."
He also said through an interpreter that the United States should "do better on human rights," alluding to racism plaguing the country, and to stop pressing "United States-style" democracy in the rest of the world.
"What China and the international community follow or uphold is the United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called 'rules-based' international order," he said.
A desirable bilateral relationship under the "new circumstances" is to enhance communication, properly manage differences, and expand cooperation instead of engaging in confrontation, Yang said.
The remarks came as the Biden administration is stepping up efforts to rally U.S. allies and partners to counter China, viewing the Asian giant as posing serious challenges to an international system the United States is defending.
Last Friday, Biden convened a meeting with leaders of Japan, Australia and India in a grouping called the Quad, which rolled out a pledge to respond to global challenges such as the coronavirus pandemic and to promote "a free, open rules-based order" to counter threats in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin then flew to Japan and South Korea on a trip intended to signal Washington's determination to work with its closest allies in Asia. Blinken stopped over in Alaska on his way back to Washington for the meeting with the Chinese officials.
It is unclear whether Washington and Beijing can come up with any agreements that can ease the tension, with a senior U.S. administration official denying prospects of releasing a joint statement after the talks conclude.
The two countries have already differed as to how they view the nature of the meeting, with China calling the event a "strategic dialogue," while the United States has emphasized that it is "not the resumption of a particular dialogue mechanism or the beginning of a dialogue process."
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Chinese officials plan to urge their U.S. counterparts to drop the sanctions and restrictions that the Trump administration imposed on Chinese entities, such as Huawei Technologies Co., and individuals.
The Chinese side also plans to propose re-establishing regular high-level meetings between the two countries and scheduling a virtual summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Biden in April during a global conference on climate change, the newspaper said.
Topics of discussion during the meeting in Anchorage are also expected to include North Korea's denuclearization, with the United States expecting China, which has been Pyongyang's primary diplomatic backer, to play a key role in the issue.
Blinken has also said earlier that he intends to convey to Chinese officials concerns about Beijing's assertiveness in waters around the Japanese-administered, China-claimed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Gist of 1st in-person meeting between U.S., Chinese top diplomats
The following is the gist of the first in-person meeting between top diplomats of the United States and China since the change in U.S. administration in January, held on Thursday in Alaska.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken:
-- voiced deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, and economic coercion of U.S. allies.
-- argued China's actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.
-- said U.S. relationship with China will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be, adversarial where it must be.
-- said he heard deep concern about some of the actions China has taken, when he visited Japan and South Korea earlier this week.
China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi:
-- urged the United States not to interfere in China's "internal affairs."
-- called Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet "inalienable parts of China's territory."
-- asked the United States to stop pressing "United States-style" democracy.
-- called on the United States to follow the necessary diplomatic protocols, if it wants to deal properly with China.
-- said the United States was not qualified to speak to China "from a position of strength" even 20 years or 30 years back.