In a protracted and unplanned public spat in Anchorage late Thursday, top diplomats from China and the United States traded picks for more than an hour in front of astonished journalists.
Diplomatic summit openings are often boring and carefully choreographed, a showcase for the world’s cameras before the doors close and the real conversations begin.
So if the people who are now in charge of probably the most important bilateral relationship in the world were unable to keep the tensions a secret for just a few minutes of newsletter images, it suggests that even more turbulent times are ahead.
Speeches by both delegations were to last two minutes each, US diplomats said afterward. But once they made brief statements, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, spoke for more than 16 minutes full of volleys against a Washington that he denounced as intimidating, racist and hypocritical.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken felt compelled to respond. Then, when he asked the journalists to leave, the Chinese counterparts attacked America’s commitment to the free press while responding to his response.
The fierce comments from both sides were likely directed at both national audiences and their counterparts across the table.
Under Xi Jinping, China’s Foreign Ministry has encouraged aggressive nationalism, with its diplomats reformulated as aggressive “wolf warriors,” defending the country in battles of words and social media abroad.
President Biden is under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to take a hard-line approach to Beijing, a rare issue of bipartisan consensus, while seeking a new relationship with a major competitor and rival.
Donald Trump’s initial warm embrace of China, including his apparent eagerness to overlook human rights abuses in pursuit of a trade deal, he had soured in confrontation and racist attacks at the end of his term. Critics, including Biden, denounced his approach as erratic and dangerous.
But with increasing economic and human rights concerns over China, it has also become clear that commitment, The cornerstone of US diplomacy with China since Richard Nixon reestablished ties in the 1970s, it is no longer considered effective.
China is economically powerful and territorially aggressive, from its border with India to the South China Sea. The two countries are at odds on everything from trade tariffs to cybersecurity to handling an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, and both are determined not to appear weak.
“We do not seek conflict, but we welcome tough competition and will always uphold our principles, our people and our friends,” said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Strengthening regional alliances with other democratic nations, a marked departure from Trump’s America First approach, is expected to form a key part of the Biden administration’s China policy.
The Anchorage meeting came as Blinken and Sullivan were returning from visiting Washington’s allies in East Asia, Japan and South Korea.
That alone could have added tension to the first face-to-face meeting with their Chinese counterparts. But both sides also took aggressive political measures in the run-up to the summit, while insisting that the timing was not related to the talks.
The United States had imposed new sanctions on 24 Chinese officials, saying they had undermined democracy in Hong Kong. Foreign Minister Wang Yi was one of the officials who attacked this move, insisting that “this is not the way one should receive guests.”
China, for its part, scheduled the controversial trials of two Canadians to end the talks. Ottawa says the men were held in “hostage diplomacy” after they arrested a top Chinese tech executive on a US extradition order.
However, the public dispute was followed by “substantive, serious and direct” conversation, US officials said. told CBS, raising hope that while both sides want to take a firm stand, they are also eager to try to find ways to work together on vital issues of shared interest, from North Korea’s nuclear program to fighting the nuclear program. climate change.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism