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Extraordinary diplomatic clash signals tough times ahead for the US and China




You have it and it is unusual diplomatic shock Thursdays between senior U.S. and Chinese officials point to a difficult path ahead, as the world’s two largest economies maneuver a relationship that won’t improve easily or quickly, analysts said, and instead it can only be more difficult to navigate.

The typically boring prelude to diplomatic meetings quickly went out of control in part because of mismatched expectations and because both sides delivered speeches for both their domestic audience and their counterparts.

The Biden administration wants to keep a hard line on China, particularly on areas of sensitivity for Beijing, such as human rights, and is unlikely to relax with China’s hawks in Congress willing to criticize any sign of weakness. Meanwhile, Beijing intends to show that it is not intimidated by the United States or influenced by American claims of world leadership.

“We didn’t expect to see anything in terms of background dialogue for the meetings, so the fact that they were undone didn’t surprise us, but the fact that they were undone so quickly and with such a spectacular pattern was really remarkable,” he said. dir Cailin Birch, world economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Short range”

The difficult start could do it difficult progress in areas where the two nations have an interest in cooperating, such as trade, analysts said. “Overall,” Birch concluded, Thursday’s meeting shows that “there is little room for improvement in US-China relations in the short term.”

Blinken and Sullivan were in Anchorage to meet with China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi for two sessions on Thursday and a third on Friday. The event was twisted almost immediately when the two sides met for what is usually a ceremonial exchange of comments in front of the press.

After Blinken’s description of Washington’s “deep concerns” about some of Beijing’s human rights record and aggressive behavior abroad, Chinese officials ignored the protocol to exploit the United States, the state of its democracy. and his history of racial justice. Blinken then countered with his own unscripted rebuttal. Both sides insisted that the cameras stay in the room to capture their observations.

The two U.S. officials raised a number of issues, ranging from the ongoing crackdown in Xinjiang that Blinken has called genocide to China’s cyberattacks. But it is likely that the speeches were meaningful to both the home audience and others.

“A lot of it was probably theater for the national audience, definitely for the United States and for China,” Birch said.

In a lengthy series of comments, Yang made it clear that China believes the U.S. has no right to get involved in its “internal” affairs, to claim a right to world leadership, or even to promote its vision of democracy and human rights, given the internal controversy. on the 2020 elections and the injustices exposed by American racial justice protests. “The United States does not have the necessary qualifications to say that it can speak from a position of strength,” mocked foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi.

Pointing to the “intensity” and “vociferation” of Yang’s rebuttal, Birch said, “Probably wanted to show that China is not intimidated and it was also a sign of disrespect: China makes it clear that it will not follow the rules . ”

A senior Republican aide suggested that Blinken and Sullivan were probably aware that lawmakers were also watching.

“They can’t afford to give them an inch right now,” this aide said of the Biden administration’s approach to China. “We all know that China is now the biggest problem geopolitically, especially because of Hill on foreign policy. They couldn’t make an inch. They had to be strong, they had to be tough.”

The Biden administration should not only keep Republicans in mind. “If the administration is too weak in China,” they said, “you may have a bipartisan group of people who can expand and put restrictions on that effort, so there are national concerns that also need to balance. The question is what happened behind closed doors. “

Senate Foreign Relations Committee officials have asked the administration to read Monday’s meetings. Sullivan said Friday that they had been “tough” and that he and Blinken would return to Washington to consult with Congress and allies about the talks.

“Hard and direct”

“We were expecting to have tough, direct conversations about a wide range of issues, and that’s exactly what we had,” Sullivan said. Blinken said that “in economics, trade, technology, we told our counterparts that we are reviewing these issues in close consultation with Congress, with our allies and partners, and we will move them forward in a way that fully protects them. and it advances the interests of our workers and our companies. “

Another factor that contributed to the friction was the very different expectations that the two parties had about the meetings.

“China was expecting a resurgence and at least in theory was hoping to have an introductory and discreet meeting to set the tone,” Birch said. “Viously, obviously with Blinken’s comments, that possibility came out the window. The US team was planning to discuss really sensitive issues for China: its human rights record and its territorial ambitions.”

On Friday, President Joe Biden noted that Blinken had his full support and told reporters he was “very proud” of the top American diplomat after his verbal confrontation with Chinese officials. Stephen Orlins, chairman of the U.S.-China National Relations Committee, said Biden’s “unequivocal support” message shows that “this administration is not like the previous one and speaks with one voice about China … All they are reading from the same playbook “.

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Emphasizing the Biden administration’s concerns about human rights and the threat that China poses to smaller countries and U.S. allies, Blinken and Sullivan also noted that the transactional, targeted approach is over. to the Trump administration’s self-employed trade. Speaking to reporters Friday, Blinken said he and Sullivan had two priorities for the talks.

“First, we wanted to share with them the important concerns we have about several of the actions China has taken and the behavior it exhibits, concerns shared by our allies and partners. And we did,” Blinken said. “We also wanted to set out very clearly our own policies, priorities and worldview. And so did we.”

Blinken and Sullivan stressed that they will continue to work with China in areas of mutual interest, including Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan, but the climate “is perhaps the only real possibility for substantial short-term progress. said Birch. “It’s the only real area where we see the two countries aligned and where their partnership would turn out well for both governments, while even a sign of trade cooperation would be difficult to sell at home, especially in the US.” .