US, China set to meet in tense first talks under Biden

White House says the US will ‘be frank’ on Chinese conduct in the region, as Biden rallies allies to counter Beijing.

US State Secretary Antony Blinken talks with a military official before boarding a plane in South Korea on March 18, 2021 [Lee Jin-man/Pool via Reuters]

The United States began its first in-person meetings with top Chinese diplomats under the administration of President Joe Biden on Thursday, during which US diplomats are expected to be “frank” as they discuss sensitive issues including human rights and the economy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NSA Jake Sullivan will meet top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi on Thursday and Friday in Anchorage, Alaska.

“We do not seek conflict, but we welcome stiff competition, and we will always stand up for our principles, for our people, and for our friends,” Sullivan said as the talks began.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier on Thursday the diplomats will bring up “difficult components” of the US-Chinese relationship. “We expect it to be frank.”

The meeting comes directly after Blinken travelled to Japan and South Korea, regional US allies who are contending with China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.

Psaki named the situation in Hong Kong, technology disputes and “military tensions in the region” as the main sticking points.

China and the US are set to revamp a fraught relationship that strained during the previous administration of former President Donald Trump.

Trump placed tariffs on Chinese goods, blocked the nation’s telecommunication companies from expanding on US soil and often accused them of stealing intellectual property.

The Biden administration has echoed some of these claims, along with fierce criticism of China’s military posture in the region and the internment of its Uighur minority in detention camps in Xinjiang province, which some call a “genocide”.

Protesters take part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labelling China’s treatment of its Uighur population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian embassy in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2021 [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

Blinken has pledged to raise the issue during the meeting, having upheld a designation from the Trump administration that China was committing genocide.

China has denied the allegations.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping, previously spoke with Biden in February. During the conversation, Xi called for improved relations based on the “spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation”.

Psaki said Thursday’s meeting was “not part of a series of meetings” when asked if it signalled a change in diplomatic stance.

Psaki and Biden have said the administration is open to engaging with “adversaries” such as Russia and China, when it is in the interest of the US.

Climate change and the coronavirus pandemic have been cited as examples of shared interests. Blinken also said on Thursday he hoped China will use its influence with North Korea to pursue denuclearisation.

State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said at a Thursday news conference the US hopes to restart talks with Pyongyang over their nuclear programme.

“It’s time to restart that dialogue”, Porter said.

Source: Al Jazeera