China-US talks might turn distinctly chilly in Anchorage

Washington will cross Beijing’s red lines of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and the disputed waters of the South China Sea

Anchorage in Alaska is hardly the place to thaw out relations between China and the United States. At this time of the year, the temperatures hover around -5 Celsius.

But while it will probably warm-up before next week’s high-level talks, the permafrost might be evident in discussions.

Still, it will be a symbolic meeting when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan lay out Washington’s position to Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi and Foreign Affairs top diplomat Yang Jiechi.

“If the Chinese repeat their messages contained in recent speeches that the US is to blame for the problems in the US-China relationship and therefore the ball is in the US court, then nothing positive will come of this meeting,” Bonnie Glaser, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said as reported by the Reuters news agency.

The issues:

  • The US has been at the forefront of highlighting Beijing’s repression in Xinjiang, calling it “genocide.”
  • Up to 1.4 million Uighur Muslims have been held in internment camps in the region, according to human rights groups.
  • China’s moves to dismantle the “One Country, Two Systems” model in Hong Kong has also created waves.
  • Tension has continued to rise in the South China Sea with a massive PLA Navy build-up.
  • The “bullying” of Taiwan has also become a major issue for President Joe Biden’s administration.
  • Unfair trading practices, cyber theft, intellectual property violations and the Covid-19 crisis are other stumbling blocks.
  • In response, President Xi Jinping’s ruling Communist Party has made it clear that Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan come under “internal affairs” and “national sovereignty.”
  • They are off the table and not negotiable as far as the CCP is concerned.
  • Beijing has dismissed Washington’s “genocide” claims as “lies” without allowing human rights officials from the United Nations unfettered access to Xinjiang.
  • China has also called the new electoral reforms in Hong Kong “necessary” even though Beijing will be allowed to veto pro-democracy candidates.
  • Illegal trade practices have been denied as has cyber theft, intellectual property violations and Beijing’s initial bungling of the Covid-19 crisis.

Short but not sweet: “It’s pretty simple. This is an important opportunity for us to layout in very frank terms our concerns,” US Secretary of State Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

No lectures, please: “The Biden administration is at least better than the previous one as they are willing to talk with us. But if China just receives another round of lecturing from US officials, the meeting will be pointless,” Jin Canrong, of the School of International Studies at the Renmin University, told Global Times.

Delve deeper: Behind the “Wolf Warrior” rhetoric and the “China Century” drumbeat, Beijing faces major domestic challenges. They include a social services policy that is not fit for purpose. Other issues involve a rapidly aging population, rising unemployment and a widening wealth gap. Being the workshop of the world will not solve those problems.

Political conundrum: Later this year, the Communist Party of China will celebrate its centenary. A time for nationalistic joy in Beijing but also a period of reflection. The CCP was rocked to its core after more than one million people in Hong Kong took to the streets during the summer of discontent in 2019. Fears that would spread to other parts of the mainland left senior Party members shaken before they launched an all-encompassing crackdown.

Hong Kong, the Party’s Hong Kong: As expected the National People’s Congress has rubber-stamped a decision that will rip the heart out of the “One Country, Two Systems” model that was agreed between Beijing and London before the handover of the city in 1997. Under China’s new vetting scheme, only “patriots” will be allowed to govern Hong Kong, ruling out pro-democracy candidates. “It is very sad. But this doesn’t mean the game is over. The fight will go on,” Emily Lau, the former Democratic Party chairwoman, told the BBC.

China Factor comment: From Xi’s inner circle to academia and the state-run media, China is always quoting chapters of the “years of humiliation” at the hands of foreign forces. And, rightly so. Yet at the same time, the Communist Party has failed to judge the mood of democracies across the West and Asia. Discussions in Anchorage will not bridge that gap. But it might just underline the determination of the US and its allies to defend democratic values.