'Speaking for too long', 'inhospitable': China delegation faults US for flouting protocol at talks

Mr Antony Blinken (right) speaks while facing Mr Yang Jiechi (left) and Mr Wang Yi (second from left) at the opening session of US-China talks in Anchorage on March 18, 2021.
Mr Antony Blinken (right) speaks while facing Mr Yang Jiechi (left) and Mr Wang Yi (second from left) at the opening session of US-China talks in Anchorage on March 18, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING – Chinese officials on Friday (March 19) accused their American counterparts of speaking for too long, being “inhospitable” and violating diplomatic protocol at high-level bilateral talks, state media reported. 

China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi are in Anchorage, Alaska, to meet United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, in the first in-person talks of the Biden administration.

But the two-day meeting got off to a rocky start with both sides having differing accounts of the encounter, with the Chinese state media sending out a flurry of reports and alerts setting out the Chinese version of events after the first round of talks ended. 

China was prepared to conduct the dialogue “with sincerity” in accordance with what had been agreed in advance, the Chinese delegation told state broadcaster CCTV in a briefing after the first round of talks. 

“But the US side, which started speaking first, severely exceeded the time allocated for their opening remarks, made unreasonable attacks and accusations of Chinese domestic and foreign policies, and provoked quarrels,” one official said.

“This is not the way to treat your guests and it violates diplomatic protocols.”

In his opening remarks, Mr Yang emphasised that the US was not qualified to speak condescendingly with China, and that dealing with China must be on the basis of mutual respect.

“History will prove that it is oneself who suffers in the end if a hard-headed strategy is used with China,” Mr Yang said, according to CCTV.

Mr Yang criticised the US’ own human rights record at home and abroad, citing the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement and America’s record of using force to “topple other regimes” and “massacre people of other countries”.

Chinese social media was rife with nationalistic comments commending the diplomats, mostly on videos of Mr Yang’s remarks telling the US not to be condescending. 

“Show (the US) that China is not to be trifled with,” wrote one comment on the Twitter-like Weibo, responding to a video of the meeting. 

This “unprecedented” open confrontation between both countries is a moment of “great symbolism”, wrote newspaper editor Hu Xijin, who heads the state-owned Global Times tabloid.

“It tells Americans that they should stop pretending that they can point fingers at China. That era is already over,” he wrote on Weibo. 

Much was also being made of the fact that protocol officers tried to usher journalists out after the opening remarks but were called back in by Mr Blinken, who wanted his response to Mr Yang to be heard. 

Chinese analysts, however, cautioned against reading too much into the events, which they saw as “necessary” for the relationship to move forward. 

Three facets - competition, tension and cooperation - made up the US-China relationship, said government advisor Zhu Feng, and the events at Anchorage only highlighed one part of that. 

“A heated exchange doesn’t mean that the US-China relationship is crumbling, this is to be expected... what is important is to how there can continue to be cooperation amid the tension and rhetoric as both sides work towards resetting the relationship,” said Professor Zhu, who is also the dean of Nanjing University’s Institute of International Studies. 

Furthermore, much of the messaging had been for domestic audiences, he added.

“(Secretary of State) Blinken knows he needs to make sure the Republicans can’t accuse him of being soft on China... while the Chinese side also has to be accountable to the Chinese people.” 

A second session of talks are under way with a third round scheduled for Friday morning local time.