The Guardian • Issue #1956

Blinken blinks first at US-China Summit in Alaska

Top officials from China and the United States (US) exchanged verbal blows at the Alaska Summit last week, after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan opened the session by making false and unwarranted accusations about China’s governance and international affairs.

In the summit’s opening remarks, Blinken accused China of threatening a “rules-based order that maintains global stability” by their actions regarding Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan; cyber attacks on the US and economic coercion in other nations. In an attempt to put additional pressure on the Chinese officials, he pointed out that US-allied countries, as well as important neighbours and trading partners of China – South Korea and Japan – were also concerned.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chinese Director of the General Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jeichi responded in an uncustomary way by pointing the finger back at the US to address their own human rights record and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs. The Chinese delegates assertively clarified that the US does not represent international public opinion, and that China will not be shaken by unwelcoming and threatening behaviour.

The US maintains a military presence in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, and just days before the summit put sanctions on Chinese ministers. While the mainstream media describes these actions as essential for countering human rights violations and cyberattacks, the reality is that China has improved living conditions for its population and sustains a non-interference policy with other nations. The US government’s demands are in no way an effort to “maintain global stability,” but to maintain global hegemony.

While the Trump administration was instrumental in creating worsening attitudes towards China, the new Biden administration also revealed its illusion of US moral superiority. Sullivan lectured the Chinese officials on the “secret sauce of America,” that is, the ability to confront challenges and come out more united as a country. In turn, Minister Yang countered that the US does not have the qualifications to speak to China in such a condescending manner. It is indeed condescending coming from the global hegemonic United States, a country with ongoing human rights concerns, and political interference in nations around the world.

Interestingly, it is uncommon for Chinese officials to criticise other countries, and it is perhaps unlikely this would have resulted under different conditions. Firstly, how the US officials engaged when the Chinese ministers were guests in their country was deeply insulting and provocative, rather than following shared protocols. Secondly, China is making massive strides in making fruitful ties with nations worldwide and continues to develop its own country peacefully. It is in a stronger position than it has been in the past, and has more confidence to defend its own interests.

For instance, at the Boxer Protocol in 1901, an unequal treaty was signed when eight Western powers invaded China. The treaty allowed Western troops to be stationed in China and forced Beijing to pay the equivalent of ten billion dollars in today’s value of silver. However, due to shifting power dynamics, Yang was able to point out the hypocrisy of the US at the Alaska summit, citing examples such as the Black Lives Matter movement, the Capitol Riot, and endless US-led wars. The US can no longer dictate discussions on matters of domestic concern.

A hopeful outcome of the summit was the long discussions held in private following the opening remarks. Martin Sieff, Senior Fellow, American University in Moscow remarked that when private meetings tend to last for longer than expected, it often means that both sides seek to understand each other and make progress. This means that rules could be established and some level of diplomacy and cooperation on shared issues such as the pandemic, climate change and economic stability could be managed.

However, Sieff also remarked that there are concerns with the US being able to change its outdated perspectives. “They are not looking at China as it is – they are looking in terms of their own assumptions, which were not even true then, or ten or even thirty years ago.” Perhaps there is hope in the presence of shifting power dynamics, for a lessening of tensions between the nations, however, this may be overly optimistic following these deepening contradictions.

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