The United States will take an uncompromising stance in talks with China on Thursday in Alaska, officials have said, in the first face-to-face meetings between senior officials from the two rivals since US President Joe Biden took office.
Beijing has called for a reset to ties, now at their lowest in decades, but Washington has said the Alaska talks will be a one-off, and any future engagement depends on China improving its behavior.
“We look forward to the opportunity to lay out in very clear terms to our Chinese counterparts some of the concerns that we have about the actions they’re taking,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday in Tokyo.
Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan will meet China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi in Alaska, fresh off of visits to allies Japan and South Korea aimed at emphasizing the US commitment to the Indo-Pacific in the face of Beijing’s rise.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, Blinken pledged to push back against Beijing’s “coercion and aggression,” including its expansive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas.
It was a measure of the bluntness that has come to mark the US posture toward Beijing under Biden, as the world’s two largest economies search for a semblance of stable ground on
which to base ties, after they sank under former President Donald Trump.
The Anchorage meeting – the first high-level face-to-face exchange since June when Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, held a frosty meeting with Yang in Hawaii – is likely to be short on diplomatic niceties, or outcomes.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has referred to the talks as a “high-level strategic dialogue”.
China hopes the meeting will help set a broad framework for resuming engagement, rather than resolve specific issues, a person in Beijing familiar with planning for the talks told Reuters.
But Biden officials have been explicit that Alaska is not a return to regular dialogue, which under previous administrations did little to resolve Washington’s concerns with Beijing.
“We expect that there are parts of the conversation that could be difficult,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
A senior US administration official said at a briefing that Washington would be looking at “deeds, not words” if Beijing wanted to change the tone of the relationship.