U.S., China spar as top diplomats hold first call

U.S. Secretary of State emphasises human rights and democratic values while China calls for no outside interference.

The United States and China on Saturday exchanged sharp messages in the highest-level interaction between the two sides following a new administration taking charge in Washington, in a suggestion that a recently confrontational relationship was likely to see more continuity than change.

In a telephone call between new Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the top Chinese foreign policy official Yang Jiechi, who is a member of the Communist Party of China’s Politburo and Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, the Biden administration conveyed a strong message to China on human rights and security in the Indo-Pacific, while China for its part blamed the U.S. for recent tensions by calling on Washington “to rectify its mistakes”.

“Secretary Blinken stressed the United States will continue to stand up for human rights and democratic values, including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and pressed China to join the international community in condemning the military coup in Burma,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. “The Secretary reaffirmed that the United States will work together with its allies and partners in defence of our shared values and interests to hold the PRC accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan Strait, and its undermining of the rules-based international system.”

Mr. Blinken and India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar spoke last week, and the Secretary of State, in their January 29 call, had “underscored India’s role as a preeminent U.S. partner in the Indo-Pacific and the importance of working together to expand regional cooperation, including through the Quad”.

China’s conditions

The Chinese readout of Saturday’s call said Mr. Yang had “urged the U.S. side to play a constructive role in promoting peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region”. China does not use the term Indo-Pacific. On the military coup in Myanmar, he underlined the position of Beijing, which has been opposed to the imposition of sanctions and has so far refrained from criticising the military leadership, that “the international community should create an enabling external environment for the proper settlement of the Myanmar issue”.

Mr. Yang said China-U.S. relations “stand at a key moment” and “the two sides should respect each other’s core interests and choices of political system and development path, and manage their domestic affairs well,” the official Xinhua news agency said. He “urged the U.S. to rectify its mistakes made over a period of time and work with China to uphold the spirit of no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, focus on cooperation and manage differences, so as to push forward the healthy and stable development of bilateral relations”.

“China will unswervingly follow its path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and no force could stop the realisation of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Mr. Yang said, adding that “the Taiwan question, the most important and sensitive core issue in China-U.S. relations, bears on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He called on the U.S. to “strictly abide by the one-China principle” and said “Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet-related affairs are all China’s internal affairs and allow no interference by any external forces.”

“Any attempt to slander and smear China will not succeed, and China will continue to firmly safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests,” he said, adding that “all countries in the world should safeguard the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order based on international law, and the basic norms of international relations in line with the purposes and principles of the UN Charter” which was “the consensus of the international community, not the so-called rules-based international order championed by a few countries.”

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