WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are looking for China to change its behavior if it wants to reset sour relations as the two sides prepare to meet in Alaska on Thursday, but Beijing has warned that Washington is full of illusions if it thinks it will compromise.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Anchorage, fresh off of Blinken’s visits to allies Japan and South Korea.
Washington says the Asia tour, as well as outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since President Joe Biden took office in January.
But the two sides appear primed to agree on very little during what will be the first high-level in-person talks with China of the Biden presidency, which are expected to run into Friday.
Even the status of the meeting has become a sticking point, with China insisting it is a “strategic dialogue”, harkening back to bilateral mechanisms of years past. The U.S. side has explicitly refuted that, calling it a one-off session.
On the eve of the talks, the United States issued a flurry of actions directed at China, including a move to begin revoking Chinese telecoms licenses, subpoenas to multiple Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns, and updated sanctions on China over a rollback of democracy in Hong Kong.
China’s ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, on Wednesday told Chinese media that the United States should discard its illusions if it thinks senior Chinese officials would travel all the way to “frigid and icy” Alaska just to “make compromises and concessions”.
China indicated it was set to begin trials of two Canadians detained in December 2018 soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, on a U.S. warrant.
China’s foreign ministry said the timing of the trials had nothing to do with the Anchorage talks.
Beijing has called for a reset to ties, now at their lowest in decades, but Washington has indicated it will take an uncompromising stance, as it engages with allies and partners to counter what it calls China’s aggression and coercion.
The largest group representing exiled Uighurs has written to Blinken urging him to demand that Beijing close its internment camps in the Xinjiang region, where U.N. experts say that more than 1 million members of the ethnic group and other Muslim minorities have been held.
Blinken has pledged to raise the issue, his State Department having upheld a Trump administration determination that Beijing was perpetrating genocide in Xinjiang, something China vehemently denies.