Biden says he’s ‘proud’ of his secretary of state for confronting China’s top diplomat in a heated debate

Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken confronted China on human rights abuses in the first high-level talks between the US and China under the Biden administration.

  • Biden on Friday expressed pride in Blinken for confronting Chinese diplomats in Alaska.
  • Blinken and China’s top diplomat engaged in a lengthy verbal spat on Thursday.
  • The secretary of state called out China for human rights abuses and defended America’s record.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

President Joe Biden on Friday expressed pride in Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the top US diplomat confronted his Chinese counterpart in a testy exchange in Alaska the day before.

“I’m very proud of the secretary of state,” Biden said in comments to reporters before departing for Atlanta.

At the start of the talks in Anchorage on Thursday – the first face-to-face meeting between US and Chinese officials under the Biden administration – Blinken said the US intended to use the discussions to raise concerns about China’s increasingly aggressive activities at home and abroad.

Blinken cited concerns about human rights abuses in Xinjiang, attacks on democracy in Hong Kong, aggression toward Taiwan, cyberattacks on the US, and economic coercion toward US allies.

“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability. That’s why they’re not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today,” Blinken said.

National security advisor Jake Sullivan echoed Blinken’s concerns and said that China had engaged in “assaults on basic values.”

Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, responded by accusing the US of “condescending” to China while rejecting the notion that the US government is suited to lecture other countries on human rights and related issues.

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

“On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights,” Yang added. “China has made steady progress in human rights and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well.”

Yang said human rights challenges in the US are “deap-seated,” and “did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.”

The Chinese diplomat’s comments lasted for roughly 15 minutes, according to the Associated Press, and the State Department accused the Chinese delegation of violating the format for the talks by breaking the two-minute time limit for opening statements.

After Yang’s lengthy remarks, Blinken urged reporters to stay in the room so he could offer a response.

Blinken said that what makes the US different is its willingness to confront its shortcomings, seemingly alluding to the Chinese government’s general denial of human rights abuses.

“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,” Blinken 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.”

Tensions between the US and China have escalated to historic heights over the past year, and Thursday’s meeting was emblematic of the increasingly combative dynamic.

Though former President Donald Trump often boasted about his amicable relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping early on his first term, his disposition toward China shifted with the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump blamed the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, on the Chinese government. This rhetoric, combined with Trump’s trade war with China, placed major strains on US-China relations. Top experts have warned that the US and China are entering a new Cold War.

From a policy standpoint, Biden’s approach to China does not differ drastically from Trump’s. But the new president’s overall tone toward Beijing, while still tough, is less belligerent than his predecessor’s.

The Biden administration issued fresh sanctions on two dozen Chinese officials on Wednesday over assaults on democracy in Hong Kong, just a day before the first high-level talks between the US and China were set to begin. Chinese diplomats were highly critical of this move on Thursday. “This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests,” said Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister.

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