Top US and Chinese diplomats clash at talks in Alaska

Antony Blinken and Chinese counterparts have tense exchange days after Biden-Putin spat

Officials including US secretary of state Antony Blinken (second on right) and Yang Jiechi (second on left), director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, at a meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. Photograph: AFP via Getty Images

The first high-level meeting between the Biden administration and Chinese leadership descended into an ill-tempered war of words, as secretary of state Antony Blinken and his Chinese counterparts clashed at a meeting in Alaska.

In public comments ahead of a private meeting between the US and Chinese delegations, China's top diplomat Yang Jiechi chided America for its own human rights record, referring to the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Mr Blinken criticised China for its "cyberattacks on the United States" and "economic coercion toward our allies" which threatens the "rules-based order that maintains global stability".

In an unusual move, Mr Blinken gestured to reporters present to remain in the room after the tense public part of the exchange had finished. He then said that the United States was in a constant quest to form a more perfect union, acknowledging that "we're not perfect, we make mistakes, we have reversals", but that the US has always confronted its challenges "openly, publicly, transparently", and not tried to sweep them under the rug.

For its part, China expressed its displeasure on US moves to sanction Chinese nationals on the eve of the summit over recent crackdowns in Hong Kong.  "This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests," said China's state councillor Wang Yi. Mr Yang accused the US of making "condescending" remarks, in breach of protocol.


Leaving for Atlanta on Friday, President Joe Biden said he was "proud" of the secretary of state, who led the meeting along with national security adviser Jake Sullivan. The Biden administration has indicated it will maintain the hardline trade strategy towards Beijing adopted by the Trump administration.


But it has also vowed to confront China over its stance on Taiwan, repressive actions in Hong Kong and violence towards the Uighur population. Mr Blinken described the persecution of the Uighur minority as "genocide" during his confirmation hearing.

The tense start to the engagement between the US and China unfolded days after Mr Biden prompted controversy by describing Russian president Vladimir Putin as a "killer". The president was responding to a question from ABC news host George Stephanopoulos asking if he believed the Russian leader was a killer. "I do," responded the president.

Russia has recalled its ambassador to Washington and demanded an apology.

Asked if Mr Biden regretted the comment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “No. The president gave a direct answer to a direct question.”

Mr Biden said on Friday that he expected to speak to Mr Putin “at some time”, and said that new sanctions would “come in time”.

The Biden administration has indicated it plans to introduce sanctions to punish Russia for election interference. This in addition to sanctions introduced in retaliation for the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Mr Biden has already spoken once to his Russian counterpart since his inauguration as president.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent