U.S. Cautions China Meeting Unlikely to Yield Breakthrough
Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Photographer: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg)

U.S. Cautions China Meeting Unlikely to Yield Breakthrough

Senior U.S. officials sought to set a low bar on expectations for the Biden administration’s first face-to-face meeting with Chinese officials later this week, saying it will be more about discussing priorities -- and differences -- than trying to craft agreements.

The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, will be “an opportunity for us to very directly, face-to-face, share with our Chinese counterparts the concerns that the United States has, that our allies and partners have about some of the things that China is doing,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday in an interview in Tokyo with TV Asahi. “And I suspect it’ll be an opportunity for China to share whatever concerns it has about us.”

Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are scheduled to meet with Yang Jiechi, a member of the the Communist Party’s Politburo, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday evening and Friday, following Blinken’s visits with allies in Japan and South Korea.

U.S. Cautions China Meeting Unlikely to Yield Breakthrough

The effort by President Joe Biden’s administration to lower expectations contrasted with China’s portrayals of the meeting as a “high-level strategic dialogue.” The repeated use of the term appeared to be an attempt by Beijing to suggest that the two sides were rebuilding a regular forum between senior officials from both sides that fell apart under former President Donald Trump.

A Chinese social media account linked to the country’s state broadcaster posted an article describing the Alaska venue as an effort to “meet each other halfway.” The official China Daily newspaper has called the meeting a “welcome development” that revived hopes for engagement, while cautioning that “one day of talking is not enough.”

The U.S. is still developing its China strategy and will use the session to further inform the trajectory for the relationship of the world’s two largest economies, a senior Biden administration official told reporters Tuesday. The goal for the meeting is a frank exchange of views, but it won’t conclude in a joint statement, a second official said.

Blinken said in the television interview that “the concerns that we’ve expressed publicly are the same ones that we’ll be expressing to them in private.”

Blinken and Sullivan meeting jointly with their Chinese counterparts is also intended as a visible show of unity and a signal that Beijing can’t use its past tactic of playing different factions of an administration against one another, one of the officials said.

The State Department on Tuesday officially added 14 Chinese lawmakers, including a member of the Communist Party’s ruling Politburo, to a blacklist under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act. All the officials were designated for sanctions by the Treasury Department in December, but the latest action could lead to greater penalties for banks that have any business with them.

In remarks with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday, Blinken accused Beijing of using “coercion and aggression” in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region of China as well as Taiwan.

U.S. Cautions China Meeting Unlikely to Yield Breakthrough

But U.S. officials have also sought to stress areas of potential cooperation, including on climate change and nuclear nonproliferation. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday that the Alaska meeting wasn’t meant to establish expectations for regular encounters between the two sides.

“I wouldn’t see this as one in a series,” she said. “This is a meeting that our national security adviser and secretary of state are attending, and I wouldn’t build it out beyond there at this point in time.”

The meeting comes after Biden and the leaders of Japan, India and Australia held a virtual summit of the so-called Quad countries last week. While the session focused on issues such as bolstering coronavirus vaccine production to aid developing countries, the show of unity against China was unmistakable. The online gathering prompted criticism from authorities in Beijing.

China hoped the talks with the U.S. would help put the relationship back on track, Foreign Ministry spokesman Chao Lijian said at a regular briefing Wednesday in Beijing. A range of topics could be discussed and China hadn’t ruled any out, he said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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