Competing statements from both sides last week highlighted the gap: “This is not a strategic dialogue,” Blinken said of the meeting as a testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, was quick to contradict him: “China, invited by the United States, will hold a high-level strategic dialogue with the US side in the coming days.”
This is not the only point of tension. A U.S. official said the Chinese had registered their misfortune with the option of having a coronavirus test before meeting their colleagues, a recommended guideline for travelers visiting Alaska. As of Tuesday evening, delegations were not expected to eat together in Anchorage, which would be a normal part of such diplomatic meetings. “Everything on the schedule is strictly business,” said the US official.
However, these details are the smallest differences between countries. The The Biden administration has confirmed its determination that China is committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims, maintaining tariffs imposed as part of former President Donald Trump’s punitive trade war, and Beijing will not make any concessions to take further action against climate change, Blinken told Congress last week.
Meanwhile, China continues its military buildup in the South China Sea, clashes over trade with Australia and threatens another US ally, Taiwan, US officials say. Microsoft too attributed a recent cyber attack to government-sponsored Chinese hackers through its exchange email service. US officials expect all of these issues, as well as China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, to be discussed during the summit, a senior government official said Tuesday.
The exact format of the gathering is still being negotiated, a US official said, but the tentative plan is to hold three three-hour sessions over two days. There will likely be a maximum of 10 attendees on each side, the official added – a relatively small footprint, although it’s unclear whether the sparse approach is due to the strained nature of U.S.-China relations, concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, or both .
The Biden administration sees the meeting as an opportunity to approach Beijing from “a position of strength,” Sullivan told reporters last week. The timing is also very deliberate: it was planned to immediately follow meetings between US officials and key partners and democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, India, Japan and South Korea.
Current and former US officials said the diplomatic choreography sends a message to China that the US sees its alliance network as a key advantage in competition with Beijing. The choice of Anchorage was also strategically important: the US wanted the first US-China meeting of the Biden administration to take place on US soil, and on US terms, the senior government official said.
“The Biden team has focused on positioning itself and finding the right order for its engagement in China,” said Danny Russel, who served as deputy secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under former President Barack Obama. “Obviously, the fact that they are holding this meeting literally after the alliance consultations in Tokyo and Seoul is no accident.”
But it’s not just about choreography, said the chief administrative officer. “Sequencing is part of the equation, but we are also working to strengthen our hand,” the official said, adding that the overall goal is to “improve our leverage and quality of life in the area in meaningful ways”. The official stressed that the Anchorage meeting “is really unique”.
“This is not a resumption of any particular dialogue mechanism or the beginning of a dialogue process,” said the official, and there will be no joint statement after the meeting.
Circumstances were different when Yang, the chief Chinese diplomat, last met with the US Secretary of State. When Mike Pompeo met Yang in Hawaii last June, there was no public demonstration of coordination with allies or a formal pre-announcement of these talks, and no public back-and-forth between the US and China about expectations for the meeting. The The State Department later issued an advertisement the meeting, the brevity of which indicated that it was not going well.
Chinese leaders have made it clear that Beijing hopes to restore normal bilateral relations with Washington. State Department spokesman Lijian said: “The two sides should respect and treat each other equally, improve mutual understanding through dialogue, resolve and resolve differences, and get China-US relations back on track.”
Chinese state media, however, were less diplomatic and criticized the US for “exploiting” Indo-Pacific allies as a bulwark against China.
“What Washington sees as a real threat is China’s increasing economic development and the widespread growth that goes with it,” an editorial in the reads The global time, an arm of the People’s Daily of the Communist Party of China. “Unfortunately, the US can hardly solve this problem by hearing more comforting words from its allies.”
Republican critics of the new administration and its commitment to China will also be closely monitoring the meeting, especially those like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) who have expressed concern over possible concessions to Beijing in exchange for greater cooperation on climate change, which is central to the Biden government.
An exchange during Blinken’s Congressional report last week made the tension clear: Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) Asked the Secretary of State if he would “consider concessions to the Chinese Communist Party on the Paris Climate Agreement or anything else that would we may need to know. ”
“No,” answered Blinken.