China challenges Biden team on state of US democracy

China questioned the state of U.S. democracy in the first face-to-face meeting between Chinese officials and the Biden administration, signaling Beijing’s intention of using former President Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election for its own interests. 

Foreign affairs director of the Chinese Communist Party Yang Jiechi in his first remarks with U.S. officials at a meeting in Alaska said the U.S. is in no place to preach democracy to other countries. 

“Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States … we believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world,” Yang said. 

The Chinese official also raised the problem of race in the United States, taking a hard line with the Biden officials.  

The remarks indicate the baseless attacks on the 2020 election by Trump and his allies, which culminated in a mob attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol that interfered with the certification of the Electoral College count and led to five deaths, will be used by China in diplomatic talks. 

The remarks prompted a rebuke by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“What we’ve done throughout our history is to confront those challenges openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug,” he said. “And sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but each and every time, we have come out stronger, better, more united as a country.”

Blinken further sought to reinforce U.S. solidarity with allies and partners, in particular Japan and South Korea, where he had traveled immediately before the meeting in Alaska.

“I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged with our allies and partners,” Blinken told the Chinese representatives, signaling a shift from the Trump years. 

Tensions between the two sides are fraught amid ongoing trade disputes that started during the Trump presidency and a coronavirus pandemic that Trump and GOP lawmakers continue to blame on China. 

Senior administration officials had set low expectations for the meeting, where the U.S. is being led by Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan. China’s team is led by Yang and Wang Yi, the Chinese state councilor.

Blinken said the Biden administration has “deep concerns” with actions by China “in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyberattacks on the United States, and economic coercion toward our allies.”

The secretary further warned that these actions “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability” and pushed back on Chinese allegations that the U.S. is interfering in domestic affairs.

“Our administration is committed to leading with diplomacy to advance the interests of the United States and to strengthen the rules-based international order,” the secretary said.

“That system is not an abstraction. It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules. The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all. And that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us.”  

Sullivan, following the secretary, said that while the U.S. does not seek conflict with China, the relationship would be defined by “stiff competition.”

“We’ll make clear today that our overriding priority from the United States’ side is to ensure that our approach in the world and our approach to China benefits the American people and protects the interests of our allies and partners,” he said. 

Yang chided the United States over foreign military intervention, accused it of having “deep-seated” human rights abuses related to anti-Black racism and called America the “champion” of launching cyberattacks. 

The Chinese foreign affairs director also pushed back on Blinken’s mention of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, saying China opposed U.S. interference in its own internal affairs. 

He called for abandoning a “Cold War mentality,” saying “we see the relationship with the United States is as President Xi Jinping has said, that is we hope to see no confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect and win-win cooperation with the United States.” 

Wang added that the U.S. made a miscalculation in announcing sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials ahead of the meeting. The sanctions were imposed over the Biden administration’s determination that Beijing was rolling back democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.  

“This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests, and we wonder if this is a decision made by the United States to try to gain some advantage in dealing with China, but certainly this is miscalculated and only reflects the vulnerability and weakness inside the United States,” Wang said. “And this will not shake China’s position or resolve on those issues.”

The harsh rhetoric, pointed barbs and fraught statements underscore the approach from the Chinese as part of their “wolf warrior diplomacy” that has played out over the past few years in response to the former Trump administration’s strong stance against Beijing. 

The Biden administration has sought to maintain a firm stance against what they view as aggressive actions by Beijing that threaten the “rules-based international order” but have emphasized the need for cooperation on global challenges of climate change, nuclear nonproliferation and working to prevent the next pandemic.  

The Biden administration has identified the U.S. relationship with China as the greatest strategic challenge of the 21st century, and the meeting in Alaska was carefully coordinated to occur following meetings with strategic allies that are on the front lines of dealing with the nation. 

President Biden also virtually met with leaders of India, Japan and Australia, an informal group known as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue.

Administration officials stressed their meeting was not a counter to China but that all countries share concerns about Beijing.

The summit between U.S. and Chinese officials is expected to take place over three meetings between Thursday and Friday, but senior administration officials said earlier they don’t expect any concrete deliverables or joint statements to come from the meeting. 

Tags Antony Blinken Capitol breach China Donald Trump Hong Kong Jake Sullivan Joe Biden Taiwan

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