President Biden's top diplomat and national security adviser opened a meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, and the high-stakes talks got off to a frosty start.
In opening comments, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Chinese diplomats Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi their country was destabilizing "the rules-based order that maintains global stability" through its crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, cyberattacks on the U.S., human rights abuses against Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and economic coercion against Australia and other countries. "That's why they're not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today," he said.
Yang responded by saying internal Chinese matters are not up for discussion and accusing the U.S. hypocrisy, especially on human rights, pointing to the long U.S. history of violence against Black Americans. He also said the U.S. has long used its financial and military might to force other countries into compliance.
U.S. officials halted reporters from being ushered out, as planned, saying they wanted to respond since the Chinese officials exceeded the agreed-upon two minutes for comments. In his rebuttal, Blinken said the U.S. faces its domestic problems transparently and works to become a better society openly. Globally, "I'm hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we're reengaged," he added. "I'm also hearing deep concern about some of the actions your government is taking." Chinese officials then demanded their own chance to respond, Politico reports.
After the public showdown, a U.S. official said the Chinese diplomats were "grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance." The U.S. and Chinese delegations are meeting through Friday. Biden has made clear he views U.S.-Chinese relations as America's top geopolitical challenge.
"It has become clear that the U.S. and China have conflicts of interest that cannot be solved but must be managed," said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We don't want a hot war, and we don't want a cold war," and this meeting could be an "important potential turning point" for U.S.-China relations for years to come.