The United States will tell China it is looking for “deeds, not words” if Beijing wants a change in the tone of bilateral ties, two US officials said on Tuesday, ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first face-to-face meeting with his Chinese counterparts in Alaska.
The high-level talks, scheduled for Thursday, are aimed at “getting an understanding of each other” and “taking stock” of ties as the new government of US President Joe Biden formulates its China policy, the officials said.
Washington will also make clear its “deep concerns” about China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan and lay down “some specific steps” that Beijing needs to take to change course, the officials said, briefing reporters on the condition of anonymity.
That includes ending the “economic coercion” of Australia, a key US ally, they said.
The talks between Blinken, the White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and their Chinese peers – Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party official Yang Jiechi – come as Beijing presses for a reset in relations following years of worsening ties under former US President Donald Trump.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, during a two-hour phone call with Biden in February, called for an improvement of ties based on the “spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation”. He warned that any confrontation between the two superpowers would be “disastrous”.
Weeks later, Wang, the Chinese foreign minister, laid out Beijing’s vision to bring “China-US relations back on the right track”, urging Washington as a first step to stop “meddling” in the affairs of Tibet, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan. He also urged Washington to lift “unreasonable tariffs” on Chinese goods and remove restrictions on Chinese media outlets as well as educational and cultural groups.
Biden, however, has maintained Trump’s tough stance on China.
He has called Beijing the US’s “most serious competitor” and pledged to confront what he called its “attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance”.
‘No illusions about tough-minded approach’
Thursday’s talks in the city of Anchorage in Alaska come a week after Biden convened the first leader-level summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia that aims to counter China’s rise.
The US officials told reporters that the summit, as well as Blinken’s continuing visit to Japan and South Korea, were part of the Biden administration’s effort to formulate a new China policy.
“We are coming in with what we feel like is an increasingly strong hand to come to the table with our Chinese interlocutors,” the official said, adding that the US side will again “make very clear our deep concerns about a range of issues, whether it’s Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Chinese economic coercion of our allies and partners, China’s increasingly aggressive activities across the Taiwan Strait”.
However, the two sides will not enter detailed negotiations.
“We’re simply not there yet,” the official said, adding: “This is really about having a broader strategic conversation, it’s about communicating the areas where we intend to take steps, and it’s about understanding where our Chinese interlocutors are at.”
Wang and Yang’s inputs in the Alaska talks will also be “important to informing where we go in our China strategy going forward,” the official continued.
Still, Blinken and Sullivan will outline actions the Chinese side needs to take to see “substantial steps forward in the relationship”, including ending informal trade sanctions against Australia.
“Beijing has been talking about its desire to change the tone of the relationship, and of course, we’re going to be looking at deeds, not words on that front,” the second official said. “And we’re of course coming to these discussions with a very clear-eyed view about [China’s] pretty poor track record of keeping its promises.”
Washington does not have “unrealistic expectations” about the outcome of the meeting, the official said, and for that reason, there will no joint statement.
“I think we’re looking to have a nice, robust and very frank conversation with a power that is going to be a major competitor of ours,” the official said, adding: “We don’t want them to be operating under illusions about our tough-minded approach to their very problematic behaviour. And on the other hand, of course, it’s an opportunity for our guys to hear from them.”