US Secretary of State Tony Blinken has bluntly told China's top diplomats that Beijing's actions have threatened the rules-based order that maintains global stability, as the two sides exchanged sharp rebukes in public during their first in-person high-level meeting since President Joe Biden took office.
The talks involved Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the US side, facing off with China's top foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, and foreign minister Wang Yi.
In his opening remarks to the much-anticipated US-China talks being held in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, Blinken said that the issues to be raised by his delegation are relevant not only to the two countries but to others across the region and indeed around the world.
The Biden administration, Blinken asserted, is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order.
"That system is not an abstraction. It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively, and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules," Blinken said.
The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us," he said.
At the first-ever meeting of the Quad last week, US President Joe Biden, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrision and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said they were committed to promoting a free, open, rules-based order, rooted in international law to advance security and prosperity and counter threats to both in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.
"We support the rule of law, freedom of navigation and overflight, peaceful resolution of disputes, democratic values, and territorial integrity," the top leaders of the US, India, Australia and Japan said in a joint statement, amidst China's aggressive actions in the strategic Indo-Pacific.
Blinken said the meeting was an opportunity to discuss key priorities, both domestic and global, so that China can better understand the Biden administration's intentions and approach.
The relations between the US and China are at an all-time low. The two countries are currently engaged in a bitter confrontation over various issues, including trade, Beijing's aggressive military moves in the disputed South China Sea and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.
We'll also discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies," Blinken said.
"Each of these actions threatens the rules-based order that maintains global stability. That's why they're not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today, Blinken said.
America's relationship with China will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be, adversarial where it must be, he said.
"Our discussions here in Alaska, I suspect, will run the gamut. Our intent is to be direct about our concerns, direct about our priorities, with the goal of a more clear-eyed relationship between our countries moving forward, Blinken said.
Yang, Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs of the ruling Communist Party of China, fought back by asserting that China does not follow what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called rules-based international order.
What China and the international community follow or uphold is the United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries of the so-called rules-based international order, he said, sparring in a highly unusual extended back-and-forth in front of cameras.
The United States has its style United States-style democracy and China has a Chinese-style democracy. It is not just up to the American people, but also the people of the world to evaluate how the US has done in advancing its own democracy, Yang, a former Chinese ambassador to the US, said.
He said that China believes that it is important for the US to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.
Yang said that China is firmly opposed to US interference in China's internal affairs.
We have expressed our staunch opposition to such interference and we will take firm actions in response. On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights," he said.
Sullivan also hit back, saying the US did not seek a conflict with China, but added: "We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends."
Foreign minister Wang said that China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side.
China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China's internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue and it should be changed. It is time for it to change," Wang said.
In response, Blinken said: A hallmark of our leadership, of our engagement in the world, is our alliances and our partnerships that have been built on a totally voluntary basis. And it is something that President Biden is committed to reinvigorating."
Yang said if the US would indiscriminately protest and speak up for countries just because they are its allies or partners, then it will be very difficult for international relations to develop properly.
"So we don't think one should be so testy as to accuse some other country of coercion. Who is coercing whom? I think history and the international community will come to their own conclusions, Yang said.
US officials said Yang's opening remarks went far beyond the two minutes the two sides had agreed upon before the talks. Blinken also insisted on issuing a rebuttal while the media was still present in the room.
Reacting to the acrimonious talks, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that American officials at the Alaska meetings provoked Chinese officials into making a solemn response after US officials made groundless attacks against Beijing's foreign and domestic policies.
"It was the US side that … provoked the dispute in the first place, so the two sides had a strong smell of gunpowder and drama from the beginning in the opening remarks. It was not the original intention of the Chinese side," Zhao told reporters in Beijing.