'Dramatic' moment in fiery meeting between US and China

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·4-min read

China and the US have endured a fiery first meeting of the Biden administration in Alaska's Anchorage, with "dramatic" scenes unfolding in front of the press at the request of both sides.

In a meeting where both nations delivered sharp rebukes of each others' policies, the US went on to accuse China of "grandstanding" and violating the meeting's protocols with what it believed were unacceptably long opening remarks from China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councillor Wang Yi.

The remarks focused on the United States' struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities and criticised its foreign and trade policies.

Video captured by CBS reporter Christina Ruffini shows the moment Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves to the press and demands to "have our colleagues return" as the US side looked to respond to China's lengthy attack.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a face mask.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a meeting with Chinese officials. Source: AP

The Chinese side's opening comments were preceded by remarks from Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan who expressed "deep concerns" over Chinese actions "including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies".

Blinken told the Chinese side without defending a "rules-based order" globally, there would be a "much more violent world", CNN reported.

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PBS foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin said the US's comments had lasted for a combined time just under five minutes while the Chinese opening remarks lasted more than 20 minutes.

Clearly not content with Yang overstepping the mark, Blinken responded: "Given your extended remarks, let me add a few of my own."

At this point he demanded the media remain, before addressing Yang's attack on the US's domestic affairs.

"We make mistakes. But what we've done throughout our history is to confront those challenges — openly, publicly, transparently — not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don't exist," he said.

Sullivan followed up by telling Yang and Wang that a "confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve".

China makes further unscheduled remarks

The press was again dismissed, however an enraged Yang and Wang appeared intent on having the final say, demanding that the press remain for further, unscheduled remarks and accused the US of abandoning democracy for allowing the media to leave.

Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan sitting at a desk.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, listens as national security adviser Jake Sullivan, right, speaks at the opening session of US-China talks. Source: AP

Yang also accused the US side of being condescending, appearing to interpret the US's remarks as a direct jibe at Beijing's practices.

“Is that the way that you had hoped to conduct this dialogue?” said Yang, according to CNN reporter Kevin Liptak.

"Well, I think we thought too well of the US."

Liptak branded the whole encounter "dramatics" while other journalists present were taken aback by the charged exchange.

US slams China's 'public theatrics'

Following the exchange, a senior US administration official said China had immediately "violated" agreed-to protocol, which was two minutes of opening remarks by each of the principals.

"The Chinese delegation ... seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance," the official told reporters in Alaska.

The United States would continue with its meeting as planned, the official said, adding that "exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience."

Washington says Blinken's Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as US outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since Biden took office in January.

But the two sides appear primed to agree on very little at the talks, which were expected to run into the Anchorage evening and continue on Friday.

The meetings were seen as a first step in rebuilding badly-damaged ties between the two countries, however the US predicted before the meeting that discussions would be "pretty tough".

Washington has said it is willing to work with China when it is in the interests of the United States and has cited the fight against climate change and the coronavirus pandemic as examples.

Earlier this week, Kurt Campbell, Biden’s Indo-Pacific Co-ordinator, told Nine Newspapers the US would only engage productively with China if it left Australia alone.

With Reuters

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