ANCHORAGE — Even before the Biden administration’s first face-to-face meeting with senior Chinese diplomats on Thursday, American officials predicted the discussions would not go well. They were right: The traditional few minutes of opening greetings and remarks dissolved into more than an hour of very public verbal jousting, confirming the expected confrontational tone between the geopolitical rivals.
U.S. officials said the two days of talks would continue, but immediately accused the Chinese delegation of violating the format for the sensitive discussions that had sought to find some common ground amid the many conflict points between them.
Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, accused the United States of taking a “condescending” approach to the talks and said the American delegation had no right to accuse Beijing of human rights abuses or give lectures on the merits of democracy.
At one point, he said the United States would do well to repair its own “deep seated” problems, specifically pointing to the Black Lives Matter movement against American racism. At another, after it looked as if the opening remarks had concluded and journalists were initially told to leave the room to let the deeper discussions begin, Mr. Yang accused the United States of being inconsistent in its championing of a free press.
new economic sanctions that were issued against 24 Chinese officials on the eve of the talks. “This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests,” said the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi.
The sanctions punished Chinese officials whom the Biden administration said had undermined democracy in Hong Kong by rewriting the territory’s election laws and pushing the changes through its pliant Communist Party-controlled legislature. Biden administration officials had earlier said the sanctions were not deliberately timed to affect the talks in Anchorage.
But they clearly offended the Chinese diplomats, who seized on them as proof that the diplomatic overture was intended not to set ground rules for a bilateral understanding of each capital’s priorities, but to give the United States a home-turf platform for embarrassing Beijing.
The tit-for-tat, which a senior U.S. official described as “grandstanding” by the Chinese for their domestic audience, left little doubt that not much would be achieved from the diplomatic discussions. However, the official said later, the discussion cooled down after journalists left the room, and yielded a substantive conversation that lasted far longer than initially planned.
After an often-conflicting strategy for dealing with China over the past four years — which pit President Donald J. Trump’s desire for a trade deal against punishing Beijing for its rampant abuses of minority Uyghurs, military aggressions in regional waters and refusal to immediately address the coronavirus outbreak — the Biden administration has sought to take a new approach.