Skip to content
The Morning Dispatch: China Talks Start Chilly
Go to my account

The Morning Dispatch: China Talks Start Chilly

U.S. and Chinese diplomats traded barbs about human rights before Alaska meetings last week.

Happy Monday! It’s early, but “JonnyD” has one of the best March Madness brackets left in not only the TMD pool, but also the entire country. Nice job calling the Loyola Chicago upset of Illinois … we guess.

And quick clarification from our piece Friday on Iowa’s 2nd congressional district: Democrat Rita Hart did not “strike out in court” before appealing to the House to overturn the election results—she bypassed the court system entirely. Apologies for the confusion.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Centers for Disease Control updated its coronavirus guidelines for K-12 schools on Friday, reducing the recommended distance between elementary school students (and middle and high school students where community transmission is low) from six feet to three feet. The guidelines continue to recommend six feet of separation for adults at all times, as well as for students when masks cannot be worn.

  • With the United States continuing to face a surge of undocumented immigrants at the southern border, the Biden administration has moved to secure an $86 million contract with hotels in Arizona and Texas to house families and children. More than 5,000 unaccompanied children were in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody at the end of this week.

  • Republican Julia Letlow will take the congressional seat of her late husband Luke, who died in December after testing positive for the coronavirus, following a special election in Louisiana on Saturday.

  • GOP Rep. Tom Reed of New York announced Sunday he will retire at the end of his current term, two days after a former lobbyist accused him of groping her in 2017. Reed, co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, had previously signaled his intent to run for governor of New York in 2022.

  • The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government announced Saturday that no overseas spectators will be allowed into Japan this summer to attend the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games due to continued COVID-19 concerns.

  • The United States confirmed 35,852 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard. An additional 447 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 542,356. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 30,792 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, and 3,039,915 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday. 81,415,769 Americans have now received at least one dose.

Blinken and Sullivan Butt Heads with Beijing

The Biden administration held its first set of in-person meetings with high-level Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Alaska last Thursday and Friday. Both sides walked away without having secured any tangible progress.

The two days of talks were contentious from the beginning, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan used their opening remarks to condemn China’s mass incarceration and oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, cyberattacks against the U.S., and geopolitical encroachment on Hong Kong as destructive to the international order. 

“Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” Blinken said. “The United States’ relationship with China will be competitive where it should be, collaborative where it can be, adversarial where it must be.”

Their Chinese counterparts—State Councilor Wang Yi and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi—didn’t take kindly to those remarks. They hit back with what Blinken later characterized as a “defensive response,” which critiqued U.S. involvement in China’s “internal affairs” and sought to draw a moral equivalence between the two countries.

“We hope that the United States will do better on human rights,” Yang said through an interpreter. “China has made steady progress in human rights, and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights. … The challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.”

“When talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the U.S. side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the U.S. does not represent the world,” Yang continued. “It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion.”

Blinken attempted to negate Yang’s assertions about the United States—both internationally and at home—and regain the moral high ground. “I’m hearing deep satisfaction that the United States is back, that we’re reengaged with our allies and partners,” he said, recounting his conversations with foreign ministers around the globe, particularly in east Asia. “We make mistakes, we have reversals, we take steps back. But what we’ve done throughout our history is to confront those challenges openly, publicly, transparently, not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist, not trying to sweep them under a rug. And sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s ugly, but each and every time, we have come out stronger, better, more united as a country.”

All of the above—and a whole lot more—took place during what was supposed to be a four-minute photo op, extended by Yang’s 17-minute tirade and the responses it sparked. “When I entered this room, I should have reminded the U.S. side of paying attention to its tone in our respective opening remarks, but I didn’t,” Yang said. “The Chinese side felt compelled to make this speech because of the tone of the U.S. side.”

A U.S. official later told reporters the Chinese diplomats violated mutually agreed upon speaking protocols and were intent on “grandstanding” and focusing on “public theatrics and dramatics over substance.”

Diplomats met for hours out of view after the initial fireworks in front of the press, but the overall tenor of the summit confirmed the deterioration of the U.S.-China relationship is bipartisan.

Neither Blinken nor Sullivan took questions from the press following the meetings, but the secretary of state argued in a brief statement that the duo accomplished what they set out to. “We wanted to share with [the Chinese officials] the significant concerns that we have about a number of the actions that China’s taken and the behavior it’s exhibiting. … And we did that,” he said. “We also wanted to lay out very clearly our own policies, priorities, and worldview, and we did that too.”

The talks came nine months after the Trump administration’s last in-person meeting with a high level Chinese government official. “There were undoubtedly some similarities with the talks between Secretary Pompeo and Yang Jiechi in Hawaii,” Bonnie Glaser—director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—told The Dispatch. But she said it’s too early to predict where the relationship will go from here. 

“Both sides spoke candidly about their concerns,” she added. “But the Alaska talks included discussion of potential areas of cooperation where U.S. and Chinese interests overlap, with both sides agreeing that they will explore working together on Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and climate change.”

Glaser predicted there will be intense competition between the two countries in the realms of economic, trade, and technology policy, and occasional confrontation where American and Chinese interests conflict—such as in the Taiwan Strait, the South and East China Seas, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Moving forward, she said, the U.S. will continue to fortify its strategic geopolitical alliances with Japan, South Korea, India, and Australia.

U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rejected the Chinese delegation’s dismissal of its human rights abuses. “The Chinese Communist Party’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims is not an ‘internal matter.’ It is genocide, and the whole world knows it,” Republican Sen. Ben Sasse said in a statement. “I have many policy disagreements with the Biden Administration, but every single American should unite against Beijing’s tyrants. Secretary Blinken and National Security Adviser Sullivan were right to say ‘it’s never good to bet against America’ and should continue to hold firm exposing Chairman Xi’s fraudulent lies.”

Other lawmakers used the talks as a means of reigniting conversations about the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are currently slated to take place in Beijing. A bipartisan coalition of 17 senators said Friday that they plan to release a resolution condemning China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy and urging the International Olympic Committee to “consider relocating the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing to another suitable host city located outside of China.”

“The United States speaks with one voice in support of freedom, democracy, and justice for the people of Hong Kong,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey said. “The Chinese government crackdown against freedom in Hong Kong is unacceptable, and Beijing must be held accountable for violating the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which awarded autonomy to Hong Kong. Congress must take immediate action to support the people of Hong Kong.”

“Words are not enough,” Sen. Marco Rubio added. “We must act with all of the diplomatic and economic tools available to hold CCP officials accountable. This includes urging the International Olympic Committee to move the Olympics out of China to a country more deserving of the honor of hosting the games.”

Worth Your Time

  • The debate surrounding Democrats’ H.R. 1 election reform package has been predictably partisan. Jessica Huseman cuts through the noise surrounding the bill in her latest for The Daily Beast. A reporter focused on the electoral process, Huseman lauds many of H.R. 1’s ostensible goals—such as securing voting rights and reforming the redistricting process—but argues it is unworkable as currently constituted. H.R. 1 “was written with apparently no consultation with election administrators, and it shows,” she writes. “The sections of the bill related to voting systems—wholly separate from its provisions on voting rights—show remarkably little understanding of the problems the authors apply alarmingly prescriptive solutions to. Many of the changes the bill demands of election administrators are literally impossible to implement. Others would significantly raise the cost of elections but provide no assured long-term funding.” 

  • In 2016, Xiyue Wang traveled from the U.S. to Tehran to complete his doctoral dissertation. Weeks later, he landed in an Iranian prison, where he stayed for 40 months. In a detailed account of his detention for The Atlantic, Graeme Wood lets Wang’s experiences—and subsequent treatment by American academic circles—speak for themselves. “He said he once thought that the dreadful state of Iran was ‘all because of something we did wrong to them,’ and that a thawing of ties would empower Iranian moderates. But that view relied on what he called a ‘mirage’ of moderation within the Iranian government. ‘I slowly saw: They don’t want to be our friends. They don’t want to reconcile,’” Wood writes. “During that period, he said he met no regime supporters. ‘But to my surprise, when I came back to the United States, there were many sympathizers with the regime,’ … ‘Can you imagine how furious this makes me, every single day?’” For more on Wang’s imprisonment, be sure to check out Danielle Pletka’s interview with him for The Dispatch.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his Sunday French Press, David focuses on one of the less-discussed aspects of last week’s horrific shootings in Georgia: Christian “purity culture” and the damage it can do when taken to its extreme. “A culture that defines a person by their sexual sin cultivates misery,” David writes. “When it places women in a position of guarding a man’s heart, it cultivates abuse. And sometimes, when a man’s heart is particularly dark, it can even cultivate murder. The problem with purity culture is not Christianity. The problem with purity culture is that its extremes are not Christian at all.”

  • Jonah the road warrior paused his family vacation several times last week to feed Dispatch content machine. In Friday’s Remnant, he discusses everything from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, to his take on the reintroduction of earmarks in Congress, to the perks and pitfalls of sleeping in a Walmart parking lot. In the G-File (published on Saturday this week!), he shares his thoughts on GOP deficit hypocrisy, and the rush to immediately characterize last week’s Georgia shooting as part of the broader uptick in anti-Asian violence. “These killings don’t appear to neatly fit that narrative,” he writes. “That doesn’t mean the issue of anti-Asian bigotry isn’t real or that the Atlanta killings aren’t a big story, they just don’t appear to be the same story. And it’s been interesting to see people try to stitch them together.”

  • Danielle Pletka joined Sarah and Steve on Friday’s Dispatch Podcast to discuss all things foreign policy: The aforementioned bilateral U.S./China meeting, the Biden administration’s approach to Iran, Israel and Palestine, and more!

  • In her latest Uphill (🔒), Haley takes a close look at how House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is handling the Republican conference’s most extreme members. (Spoiler: not very forcefully.) “While many Republicans agree that a big tent is a positive, some think the party would benefit if the tent were … a little smaller,” she writes. “McCarthy has displayed a profound sense of tolerance this year for members who spout malicious falsehoods and align themselves with extreme groups—raising questions about how he will keep members in line if he becomes House speaker in 2023.”

  • The theme of the Dispatch website this weekend was movie reviews. If you want to know more about the eight films nominated for Best Picture in this very strange year, check out our Oscars 2021 Watch Guide. And if you’re a nerd like David, you can read his long-awaited review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. After years of waiting for the film, David deems it a worthy conclusion to the “second-greatest superhero trilogy,” trailing only Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.

Let Us Know

Geopolitics is obviously incredibly complex—particularly when it comes to two countries as big and powerful as the United States and China. How would you balance confronting China’s human rights abuses with making progress on other initiatives? What do you make of Blinken and Sullivan’s relatively hardline approach?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).