In first high level meeting since March, China sets out three red lines for the US

US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) meets Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Tianjin, China.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman (left) meets Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Tianjin, China.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - China has spelt out three red lines for the United States and warned Washington not to cross them.

The conditions were set out on Monday (July 26) in the first high-level talks between the two countries since their testy meeting in Alaska in March.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi told visiting US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that the Biden administration had continued its predecessor's "extreme and erroneous" policy against Beijing and that attempts to thwart China's development will come to nothing.

He also called for the US to roll back sanctions and visa restrictions against Chinese officials, companies and students, as well as trade tariffs imposed by the previous Trump administration.

The two officials met on Monday in Tianjin, about 100km southeast of Beijing, because of Covid-19 precautions.

A readout released by the Chinese foreign ministry late on Monday night said Mr Wang urged the US to continue dialogue to find a way for the two major powers to co-exist despite their differences.

To prevent fraught relations from dipping further, Mr Wang set out three red lines for the US. These were related to not challenging China's political system, not disrupting China's development and not interfering in China's sovereignty issues such as matters in Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan.

Ms Sherman had earlier in the day met another senior Chinese diplomat who also hit out at the visiting US counterpart for treating China as an "imagined enemy"

Describing the bilateral relationship as being in a stalemate, vice foreign minister Xie Feng complained to Ms Sherman that Washington was demonising his country, and said it had no right to lecture the East Asian giant on democracy and human rights.

A summary of the meeting released by the foreign ministry said the vice foreign minister told Ms Sherman that the US could divert public discontent and shift the blame over domestic problems by making China its imagined enemy.

"It seems that a whole-of-government and whole-of-society campaign is being waged to bring China down," he was quoted as saying.

Mr Xie also accused the US of imposing its own rules-based international order on other countries, and called for a "new type of international relations" that values mutual respect, equity and "win-win cooperation" among others.

Citing the hundreds of thousands of deaths lost to the Covid-19 pandemic in the US and the wars it has waged overseas, Mr Xie said the US was in no position to lecture China on democracy and human rights.

Last week, China announced sanctions on seven individuals, including former US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, in retaliation for the move by Washington on July 16 to punish seven Chinese officials for supposedly undermining Hong Kong's autonomy.

The China-US relationship has been in the doldrums since former US President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on a range of Chinese goods in early 2018. Those tariffs remain in place, and China has also introduced tit-for-tat tariffs.

Since taking office earlier this year, President Joe Biden has kept up America's toughened policy towards Beijing, tightening the noose on Chinese companies and criticising what he described as human rights abuses in Xinjiang and China's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.

The two governments clashed during a meeting in Alaska in March, the first between the two sides since Mr Biden took office.

On Monday night, US State Department spokesman Ned Price, in a more conciliatory statement, said that Ms Sherman and Mr Wang had a frank and open discussion on a range of issues, including terms to properly manage the bilateral relationship.

The statement said Ms Sherman emphasised that the US does not seek conflict with China, but welcomes the stiff competition between the two major powers and that the US will "continue to strengthen our own competitive hand".

Ms Sherman was also said to have raised in private concerns including Beijing's "anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; abuses in Tibet; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press".

She also spoke about Beijing's conduct in the Taiwan Strait, East and South China Seas and in cyberspace, as well as China's unwillingness to allow a second phase investigation into Covid-19 origins, said the statement.

The statement said that Ms Sherman had also spoken to Mr Wang about cooperating in areas such as climate change, counter-narcotics and the political crisis in Myanmar.