US, China wrap up ‘candid’ first talks despite tense opening
Public spat before first high-level talks could be ‘aimed at a domestic audience’, US State Department says.
US diplomats wrapped up “hours” of discussions with their Chinese counterparts at the first high-level, in-person meetings in Alaska on Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, despite the previous day’s heated opening exchange.
“We were also able to have a very candid conversation over these many hours, over an expansive agenda”, Blinken told reporters after the meeting, naming Iran, North Korea and economics as areas where the two powers’ interests “intersect”.
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, said the talks were candid, constructive and beneficial, while adding: “But of course, there are still differences,” China’s CGTN television network reported.
Yang said “the two sides should follow the policy of ‘no conflict’ to guide our path towards a healthy and stable trajectory moving forward,” the network said on Twitter.
Yang Jiechi on China-U.S. talks: "We came to the meeting with the hope the two sides could enhance communication and dialogue on different fronts. The two sides should follow the policy of 'no conflict' to guide our path towards a healthy and stable trajectory moving forward."
— CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) March 19, 2021
The comments came after the State Department said earlier Friday “serious discussions” were held during the meetings and that its diplomats will not let “theatrics” from the Chinese side distract from laying out US principles and engaging in tough conversations.
US and Chinese officials traded rebukes before the first high-level, in-person meetings between diplomats from the two big powers on Thursday.
“We know that sometimes these diplomatic presentations can be exaggerated, or maybe even aimed at a domestic audience,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told a news briefing.
“But we’re not letting the theatrics from the other side stop us from doing what we’re intending to do in Alaska, which is lay out our principles, as well as our expectations, and have these tough conversations early that we need to have with the PRC,” she said referring to China.
After pointed opening remarks on Thursday from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about China’s challenge to a rules-based international order, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi lashed out with a speech criticising US democracy, and foreign and trade policies.
The United States accused China of “grandstanding” for its domestic audience, and both sides suggested the other had broken diplomatic protocol.
The rebukes played out in front of cameras, but a senior US administration official told reporters that as soon as media had left the room, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and held substantive and direct talks.
Porter said the talks on Thursday “were serious discussions”.
Porter also reiterated the US calls for China to release Canadian citizens Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from “arbitrary and unacceptable” detention.
She expressed deep US concern about Beijing’s decision to hold a closed court hearing for Spavor and plans to start Kovrig’s trial on Monday. The two men have been charged by China with spying.
China arrested Spavor and Kovrig in December 2018, soon after Canadian police detained Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech company Huawei Technologies, on a US warrant.
The US has also criticised China’s treatment of its predominately Muslim minority Uighur population, many of whom are locked in internment camps in Xinjiang.
During a UN General Assembly meeting to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said: “Racism was and continues to be a daily challenge wherever we are. And for millions, it’s more than a challenge. It’s deadly.
“Like in Burma, where Rohingya and others have been oppressed, abused, and killed in staggering numbers. Or in China, where the government has committed genocide and crimes against humanity against Uighurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” she said, referring to the region in northwest China.
Blinken promised to broach this topic during the US-China discussions in Alaska, and told reporters on Friday he also raised concerns over China’s crackdown on Hong Kong, recent moves on Taiwan and hacking attempts.