Perhaps the choice of venue for the first Biden administration official meeting with the Chinese - Anchorage, Alaska, where average mid-March temperature runs below freezing - is a precursor to how things will go: frosty!
A March 19 tweet from Reuters read:
The U.S. and China leveled sharp rebukes of each other’s policies in the first high-level talks of the Biden administration, with deeply strained relations of the two global rivals on public display during the meeting's opening session in Alaska.
It went on to report, “The talks appeared to yield no diplomatic breakthroughs - as expected - but the bitter rivalry on display suggested the two countries had little common ground to reset relations that have sunk to the lowest level in decades.”
Prior to the March 18-19 meeting, top diplomats from both sides traded barbs. The Chinese government indicated it was “strongly dissatisfied” with the recent U.S.-Japan joint statement released on March 16 in which it expressed “concerns over multiple issues related to China.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on March 17: “Yesterday in Tokyo, Japan, I spoke of the need to stand up for our shared democratic values and to work together to hold to account those who would threaten them. Today, we are again doing that.” Also on March 17, Blinken announced Hong Kong Autonomy Act sanctions were applied to an additional 24 foreign individuals “who are materially contributing to, have materially contributed to, or attempt to materially contribute to the failure of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to meet its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration or Hong Kong’s Basic Law” - a clear sign the U.S. do not plan to back down on its position on Hong Kong or on matters of human rights.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said China urges both the U.S and Japan to “immediately stop interfering” in China’s internal affairs and stop forming cliques” to target China. “The United States and Japan have no right to unilaterally define international relations, let alone impose their own standards on others," the spokesperson said.
In response, Blinken’s release pointed out China’s National People’s Congress’ March 11 decision to “unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system was an act that ‘further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,’ thereby threatening the rules-based order that maintains global stability, making China’s actions “not merely internal matters.
“A stable, prosperous Hong Kong that respects human rights, freedoms, and political pluralism serves the interests of Hong Kong, mainland China, and the broader international community. The United States stands united with our allies and partners in speaking out for the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong, and we will respond when the PRC fails to meet its obligations,” Blinken’s release. stated
To further deepen the rift before official meetings started, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan added, “A confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve.”
After the U.S. representatives’ opening remarks at the March 18 meeting, the Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi, speaking via an interpreter, accused the U.S. of ill-treatment of its own minorities, adding, “China will not accept unwarranted accusations from the U.S. side.” He reiterated that Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan are an “inalienable part of China,” therefore, issues pertaining to their governance are internal affairs.
Yang angrily demanded the U.S. stop pushing its own version of democracy at a time when the United States itself was roiled by domestic discontent. He also accused the U.S. of failing to deal with its own human rights problems, taking issue with what he said was “condescension” from Blinken, Sullivan and other U.S. officials.
Instead of the allotted two-minute limit on opening statement (meeting’s protocol), the Chinese spoke for 15 minutes, prompting the State Department to issue an official statement criticizing the Chinese for violating protocol, and that “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance.”
Back in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Blinken and Sullivan had provoked Chinese officials into making a “solemn response” with their “groundless attacks” against China.
“It was the U.S. side that ... provoked the dispute in the first place, so the two sides had a strong smell of gunpowder and drama from the beginning in the opening remarks. It was not the original intention of the Chinese side,” Zhao continued at a daily press briefing.
Author Gordon Chang (“The Coming Collapse of China,” 2001) tweeted that Chinese diplomats in the past were cunning, “pretending to be friendly and responsible. Now, however, they are arrogant beyond belief. Yang Jiechi in #Alaska just dropped the mask to show #Beijing’s true ugly face.”
What surprised many in the international community was how quickly the CCP media carried the talks, which almost never broadcast serious diplomatic disagreements in the domestic market. The talks were described as ‘candid,’ and Chinese leadership and CCP’s “achievements” were praised. Yang’s statement was most widely broadcasted! Some foreign reporters surmised the move as CCP’s way of stirring up nationalism.
As if the high-level talks were not contentious enough, a mundane Chinese greeting, “Have you had lunch?” exchanged between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Yang as they were walking back into a meeting was singled out and elevated to an “incident” in Chinese media. Apparently, Yang’s reply of “Yes, instant noodles.” was taken as an international snub by Weibo users. Comments on the social media platform accused the U.S. of being inhospitable. A few examples include “didn’t serve their guests a proper lunch,” “they completely lack etiquette,” and “disrespectful, incapable of treating China as a power of equal standing.” The truth was Chinese officials had agreed to no formal joint meals because of COVID-19. But that did not stop another Weibo user from posting, “The decline of the US starts with a bowl of instant noodles.”
Anchorage will go down in history as the venue for “noodle-gate” and frosty talks.