China’s sharp words in Alaska suggest a more confident attitude

The extraordinary ominous broadcast by China’s leading diplomats in Alaska was a manifestation of a new-found and unapologetic China, increasingly unleashed by diplomatic pressure from US presidential administrations.

Just as American views on China shifted after years of economic integration of the country, Beijing’s perception of the United States and the privileged place in the world that it has long held has changed. According to them, the Americans no longer have an overwhelming reservoir of global influence, nor the power to exercise it against China.

It has made China more confident than it has ever been to pursue its goals openly and unashamedly – from human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang to the territorial disputes with India and Japan and others in the South China Sea to, most contentious of all , the fate of Taiwan, the self-governing democracy that China claims to be its own.

While China continues to face enormous challenges at home and around the world, its leaders are now acting as if history is on their side.

Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi delivered a 16-minute jeremiad in Anchorage, Alaska, at the summit of a meeting with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and President Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and accusing them of condescension and hypocrisy.

Chinese officials and experts have recently increased this new view in speeches and articles, says Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia and now head of the Asia Society, a non-profit enterprise in New York.

“We are seeing a hardening and sharpening of the language,” he told a conference on Friday as delegations met. It reflects ” an underlying belief that China’s time has arrived and an underlying belief that the US and the West are now in a form of irreversible decline. ‘

China’s more aggressive diplomatic stance is likely to fuel tensions with the United States, which has declared China itself a national security rival. China’s stubborn views have already surfaced in activities along its borders and in its surrounding waters, where it fought Indian troops last year and threatened ships from several countries, including Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam.

This has led to warnings about the possibility of dangerous escalation. “We do not predict that there will be a war between the United States and China over Taiwan, but we are concerned about it,” said Robert D. Blackwill, a fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of a new report on the issue, said Thursday.

Meetings between the Chinese and the Americans had been tested before, but the balance of power between the two countries has changed.

For decades, China has approached American governments from weak positions, economically and militarily. It sometimes forced him to agree to the American demands, no matter how disgusting, whether it was the fact that prisoners’ supporters of human rights were released or to accept Washington’s conditions for joining the World Trade Organization.

China today feels much more confident in its ability to challenge the United States and pursue its own vision of international cooperation. This is a trust that China’s leader Xi Jinping has accepted since 2012, who used the phrase: “the East is rising and the West is falling.”

Beijing’s view has been reinforced by the coronavirus epidemic, which has largely tamed China at home, and the internal political divisions that plague the United States. Mr. Yang singled out both in his remarks Thursday.

“The challenges facing the United States with regard to human rights are deeply rooted,” he said. Yang said, referring to the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality. “It’s important that we manage our affairs well instead of shifting the blame onto someone else in this world.”

The shift in China’s strategy is not just rhetorical or a ‘wonderful’ one for a domestic audience, as a senior official along with Mr. Blinken suggested.

On the issue of matters that Mr. Shining before and during the talks – from Hong Kong to Xinjiang, from human rights to technology – China’s leaders refused to give any ground. They did so despite international criticism and even tougher sanctions imposed by Trump and now Biden administrations.

In the latest round, the State Department announced this week that it will impose sanctions on 24 Chinese officials for their role in eroding Hong Kong’s electoral system. The timing of the move, just as the Chinese were preparing to leave for Alaska, contributed to the disaster.

“It’s not supposed to be the way he welcomes his guests,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Alaska, which was as much Yang’s.

The Biden administration’s stated strategy for dealing with China was to form coalitions of countries to confront and repel its behavior. The team of mr. Biden argued that while Trump correctly diagnosed China as an increasing threat, his volatile policies and mistreatment of allies undermined the attempt to counter it.

How successful the strategy will be remains to be seen, but China has in recent years acted as if it was impenetrable to indignation over its actions, making the task all the more challenging.

For example, the outpouring of international condemnation over the enactment of a new national security law last year to curb differences of opinion in Hong Kong did nothing to stop a new law disrupting the region’s electoral system.

China also decided on Friday to begin the trial of two Canadians who were arrested more than two years ago and charged with espionage in what is widely regarded as retaliation for the US attempt to seize a senior manager of Huawei, the telecommunications giant , to deliver due to fraud with sales. and Iran.

It was striking that Mr. Yang, a veteran diplomat and a member of the ruling Politburo of the Communist Party of China, used his remarks to say that neither the United States nor the West in general had a monopoly on international opinion.

This is a view that is reflected in China’s successful efforts to use international forums such as the United Nations Human Rights Council to condemn policies such as the mass detention and re-education programs in Xinjiang, the predominantly Muslim region in the West. China, to counter.

“I do not think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world will recognize that the universal values ​​advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States can represent international public opinion,” Yang said. “And the countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would be the basis for the international order.”

Mr. Yang also made the statement of Mr. Blinken argued that he had recently heard concerns from US allies about coercive Chinese behavior. He noted that the two countries that Mr. Blinken has just visited – Japan and South Korea – China’s second and third largest trading partners, showcasing the growing influence of its economic power.

The confrontation played well with the local public in China, judging by the reactions on the country’s carefully censored social media sites. “Who else but China these days dares to place the United States in a corner like this on American territory?” a user on Weibo wrote approvingly under a video of mr. Yang’s remarks.

While U.S. officials have said that the temperature of meetings in Alaska has declined behind closed doors, few officials or experts on either side are hopeful of a significant improvement in relations. The talks are scheduled to continue for another round of Friday.

“In general, this negotiation is only for the two parties to put all the cards on the table so that the two parties can realize how big and deep each other’s differences are,” said Wu Qiang, an independent political analyst in Beijing. ‘But in reality it will not help to bring about reconciliation or mitigation. ”

Chris Buckley in Sydney and Lara Jakes in Anchorage reported, and Claire Fu contributed research.

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