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US and China trade angry barbs at high-level Alaska talks

US and Chinese officials have exchanged sharp rebukes in the first high-level talks between the Biden administration and China, taking place in Alaska.

Chinese officials accused the US of inciting countries “to attack China”, while the US said China had “arrived intent on grandstanding”.

Relations between the two superpowers are at their most strained for years.

The US has pledged to raise contentious issues such as Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

The ill-tempered talks in Anchorage involved Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan on the US side, facing off with China’s most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, and foreign minister Wang Yi.

In a blunt opening statement, Mr Blinken said the US would “discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies”.

“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.

In response, Mr Yang accused Washington of using its military might and financial supremacy to suppress other countries.

“It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China,” he added.

Yang Jiechi (c), and Wang Yi at the Alaska talks. 18 March 2021
Yang Jiechi (c) called on the US to stop advancing its own version of democracy

Mr Yang said human rights in the US were at a low point, with black Americans being “slaughtered”.

Mr Sullivan hit back, saying Washington did not seek a conflict with China, but added: “We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends.”

The exchange, which took place in front of the world’s media, went on for more than an hour.

Afterwards, the US delegation accused China of violating the agreed protocol of two minutes of opening remarks by each side.

“The Chinese delegation… seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” a senior administration official said.

The official said the US would continue with the talks as planned, adding that “exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience”.

In later remarks via state media, Chinese officials said it had been the US, not China, that had violated protocol by exceeding the agreed time in opening remarks. They accused the US of making a “groundless attack on China’s domestic and foreign policies”.

On a more positive note, it quoted Mr Yang as saying that “serious difficulties in China-US relations in the past should not continue”.

The BBC’s Barbara Plett Usher says the talks are the first chance for the Biden administration to show how it intends to deal with what Mr Blinken has called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century”.

China is looking for a reset after relations hit rock bottom under the Trump administration, our correspondent adds. Mr Wang has said that Beijing is ready to reopen “constructive dialogue.

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