Taiwan, not Ukraine, was key agenda for China at meeting with US

Taiwan was the first item mentioned in a readout from state news agency Xinhua, while Ukraine was mentioned last. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Taiwan, not Ukraine, was top of the agenda for China's most senior diplomat, Mr Yang Jiechi, when he met US national security adviser Jake Sullivan for seven hours in Rome on Monday (March 14).

Taiwan was the first item mentioned in a readout from state news agency Xinhua that, while largely moderate-sounding, showed that Mr Yang had taken a tough stance over China's territorial integrity.

He chided the actions of the current Biden administration, which he said had been inconsistent with US commitment not to support Taiwan independence. Mr Yang did not specify the actions,

"China is gravely concerned about and firmly opposes the recent series of erroneous statements and actions by the United States on Taiwan-related issues," Mr Yang was quoted as saying in the readout.

"Any attempt to connive at supporting the secessionist forces of 'Taiwan independence' and to use the 'Taiwan card' to 'control China with Taiwan' will not succeed," he said, warning Washington against going down this "very dangerous path".

A recent visit to Taiwan by former US top defence and security officials, who were sent by US President Joe Biden, and the presence of a US warship in the Taiwan Strait have angered China, which viewed the moves as provocative.

Mr Yang, who heads the Communist Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission general office, also raised Beijing's other "core interests" during the meeting with Mr Sullivan such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, reiterating that the US should not interfere in China's domestic affairs.

Ukraine was mentioned only in the final paragraph of the readout, along with North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan as issues the two sides exchanged views on.

The Chinese readout was nearly eight times longer than a statement issued by the White House on the meeting, which said both talked about a range of issues in China-US relations, with "substantial discussion of Russia's war against Ukraine".

Chinese state media adopted a more caustic tone in describing the meeting, framing it as a call for help by the US on the Ukraine war.

"The problem that was created by the US cannot and should not be solved by China," said the hawkish Global Times in an English editorial on Tuesday (March 15).

The paper, in its Chinese edition, also quoted a US-China relations analyst who pointed to major differences between the two that were evident from their respective readouts.

"The US wants China to help resolve the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in the way the US wants, but at the same time it is unwilling to make any concessions on other core issues of concern to China, and is unwilling to respect China's core interests. This has prevented the talks from reaching any substantive results," said Professor Li Haidong of the China Foreign Affairs University.

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But neither the US readout nor a post-meeting briefing by a US official suggested that Washington had asked Beijing for help over the Ukraine conflict. Rather, the official said the US had "deep concerns about China's alignment with Russia at this time".

She said Mr Sullivan "was direct about those concerns and the potential implications and consequences of certain actions".

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