As the two countries had a tense exchange during their first in-person high-level meeting since President Joe Biden took office, the US Secretary of State Tony Blinken told Chinese diplomats that Beijing's actions threatened the rules-based order that maintains global stability.
The issues to be raised by his delegation are relevant not only to the two countries but to others across the region and indeed around the world, said Blinken as he addressed the much-anticipated US-China talks being held in Anchorage, Alaska, with the Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs of the ruling Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
The Biden administration, Blinken asserted, is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order.
The meeting was also attended by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
"That system is not an abstraction. It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively, and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules," he said.
“The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us," he said.
He said the meeting was an opportunity to discuss key priorities, both domestic and global so that China can better understand the Biden administration’s intentions and approach.
The relations between the US and China are at an all-time low. The two countries are currently engaged in a bitter confrontation over various issues, including trade, the communist giant's aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.
“We’ll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies," Blinken said.
"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,” Blinken said.
The United States relationship with China will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be, adversarial where it must be, he said.
"Our discussions here in Alaska, I suspect, will run the gamut. Our intent is to be direct about our concerns, direct about our priorities, with the goal of a more clear-eyed relationship between our countries moving forward,” Blinken said.
Yang fought back by asserting that China does not follow what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called “rules-based” international order.
“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, sparring in a highly unusual extended back-and-forth in front of cameras.
The United States has its style – United States-style democracy – and China has a Chinese-style democracy. It is not just up to the American people, but also the people of the world to evaluate how the United States has done in advancing its own democracy, Yang, a former Chinese ambassador to the US, said.
"In China’s case, after decades of reform and opening up, we have come a long way in various fields. In particular, we have engaged in tireless efforts to contribute to the peace and development of the world, and to upholding the purposes and principles of the UN Charter,” Yang said.
He said that China believes that it is important for the US to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.
“Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the Government of the United States. In China, according to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people,” he said.
“So no attempt to – the opinion polls conducted in the United States show that the leaders of China have the support of the Chinese people. No attempt to smear China’s social system would get anywhere. Facts have shown that such practices would only lead the Chinese people to rally more closely around the Communist Party of China and work steadily towards the goals that we have set for ourselves,” Yang said.
Yang said that China is firmly opposed to US interference in China’s internal affairs.
“We have expressed our staunch opposition to such interference and we will take firm actions in response. On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights. China has made steady progress in human rights and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well,” he said.
Sullivan hit back, saying Washington did not seek a conflict with China but added: "We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends."
State Councilor Wang said that China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side.
“In the past several years, China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression, plunging the China-US relationship into a period of unprecedented difficulty. This has damaged the interests of our two peoples and taken its toll on world stability and development, and this situation must no longer continue,” he said.
“China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue and it should be changed. It is time for it to change. And in particular, on the 17th of March, the United States escalated its so-called sanctions on China regarding Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are outraged by this gross interference in China’s internal affairs and the Chinese side is firmly opposed to it,” Wang said.
In response, Blinken said: “A hallmark of our leadership, of our engagement in the world, is our alliances and our partnerships that have been built on a totally voluntary basis. And it is something that President Biden is committed to reinvigorating".
Yang said if the US would indiscriminately protest and speak up for countries just because they are its allies or partners, then it will be very difficult for international relations to develop properly.
"So we don’t think one should be so testy as to accuse some other country of coercion. Who is coercing whom? I think history and the international community will come to their own conclusions,” Yang said.
Wang said in front of the Chinese side, the US does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.
"The US side was not even qualified to say such things even 20 years or 30 years back, because this is not the way to deal with the Chinese people. If the United States wants to deal properly with the Chinese side, then let’s follow the necessary protocols and do things the right way,” he said.
With PTI Inputs