United States, China meet face-to-face for first time under new U.S. administration

On Thursday, senior members of the U.S. and China administrations begin their first in-person talks in Anchorage, Alaska, the state’s largest city. The meetings between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan, of the U.S., and State CouncilorWang Yi and foreign affairs chief of the Chinese Communist Party Yiang Jiechi, of China, and are expected to last two days and conclude Friday.

The Washington Post had reported Secretary Blinken saying that the meeting, ‘is not a strategic dialogue, there’s no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements’.

Stratfor, an intelligence platform, described the talks as setting “the strategic tenor of relations from the U.S. side”.

With echoes of U.S. policy towards Iran – which after demanding that Iran return to compliance with the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal), the U.S. has now said it is willing to meet with Iran and “jointly” agree to reenter into compliance with the agreement – the U.S. expects China to ‘make the first move’ on critical areas of interest before a broader policy of engagement can start to be filled in.

For now, the U.S. wants to see China end its “ongoing trade dispute with Australia” – some have suggested this request is a signal to show the U.S.’ support for allies in the Indo-Pacific region including Australia. Before the meeting, the U.S. had also “approved its first arms sale to Taiwan”.

“By marking clear stances on both Taiwan and Australia so close to its diplomatic meeting with Beijing, the Biden administration may be conveying that it has no plans to reset U.S.-China relations and is prepared to wait for meaningful concessions from Beijing,” Stratfor commented.

The Biden administration, according to the Washington Post, is also seeking concessions on “a range of issues related to trade, intellectual property rights, cybersecurity, and climate issues”. It is unclear if all this and more will be discussed during the meetings.

In general, the Biden administration, while not expected to reverse many of the policies of the previous administration, is though to be taking a more systematic and therefore predictable approach to relations with China.

This has entailed strengthening ties and building confidence with key allies and partners in the region: President Biden last week met with other Quad leaders – U.S., India, Japan, and Australia –, and Secretaries Blinken and Lloyd Austin III have met with their counterparts in Japan and South Korea – Secretary Austin is currently at bi-lateral meetings in India.

On the Chinese side, Mr. Jiechi had in February said the previous U.S. administration had followed ‘misguided policies’ towards China.

Stratfor suggested that some in the Chinese government had initially thought the talks could be an opportunity to ‘reset’ relations between the two countries; the government has reportedly curbed expectations as well as dimmed the tone of its messages to citizens about the meetings.

Though it could use the talks to draw a contrast between itself and the U.S. in terms of being open to a “shift in relations,” it has done little to demonstrate its willingness to cooperate or alter its behavior.

For example, China has continued to rail against any mention of democratic erosion in Hong Kong or accusations of genocide in Xinjiang as interfering with its ‘internal affairs’. Stratfor also cited its “recent change in laws regulating its Coast Guard use of force”. It has also continued to suppress democratic freedoms in Hong Kong, prompting the U.S. to issue sanctions against “Chinese and Hong Kong officials,” the Associated Press reported.

Nevertheless, some would like to see the U.S. and China cooperate on Covid-19 pandemic vaccine rollout and recovery as well as on climate change leading up to COP26 in November, among other issues.

As the permafrost continues to melt and catch fire from the far East to the far West, in Anchorage, “the atmosphere may be even icier when the meeting is over,’’ said the Economist.

“Coming out of the meeting, we [Stratfor] will be watching for signs of tactical cooperation, areas of further escalation, and signals for future discussions on economic and trade issues.”

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