US President Joe Biden's administration intends to show its firmness against Beijing in its first meeting with Chinese diplomatic leaders in Alaska on Thursday, but does not expect immediate results, US officials.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan are set for talks with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi that represent "an initial discussion to understand... our interests, intentions and priorities," one senior US official told reporters Tuesday.
"Sometimes there is sense, potentially a perception, or maybe it's a hope in Beijing, that our public message is somehow different than our private message. And we think it's really important that we dispel that idea very early," the official added.
The American diplomats will therefore be as firm in the closed-door meetings as they have in recent public statements, including "deep concerns" about the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, a crackdown in Hong Kong, Chinese "economic coercion" and Beijing's "increasingly aggressive" stance towards Taiwan, the official said.
US relations with China have plunged in recent years, and the Alaska talks will be the first between the powers since Yang met Blinken's hawkish predecessor Mike Pompeo last June in Hawaii -- a setting similarly far from the high-stakes glare of national capitals.
The Biden administration has generally backed the tougher approach to China initiated by former president Donald Trump, but has also insisted that it can be more effective by shoring up alliances and seeking narrow ways to cooperate on priorities such as climate change.
Another senior US official said Beijing "has been talking about its desire to change the tone of the relationship."
But Washington will be weighing "deeds not words on that front," that official added, keeping in mind China's "pretty poor track record of keeping its promises."
The Biden administration says it does not want to enter into detailed negotiations at this stage and therefore does not expect any immediate announcements. There will be no joint statement at the end of the meeting in Anchorage.
"We are in the middle of a pretty extensive China strategy development process" and the meeting is "just the beginning of that process," the first official said, adding that the diplomats plan to raise some specific issues.
But they are not asking China "to do anything other than abide by international rules," the second official continued, adding they have no "unrealistic" expectations but want to "open up the lines of communication."