US and Chinese national security figures hold ‘frank’ talks

File photo: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd right) speaks to senior Chinese foreign official Yang Jiechi (2nd left), during the opening session of the US-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska, March 18, 2021. AFP

Minutes of the Luxembourg meeting on Monday were toned down from last week, when China’s defense minister warned that his country “would not hesitate to start a war” against Taiwan, while the US secretary to the Defense castigated Beijing’s “provocative and destabilizing” military activity.

But US security adviser Jake Sullivan and top diplomat Yang Jiechi have indicated no compromise on their main points of disagreement, particularly in Taiwan. China sees the self-governing island as part of its territory, to be seized by force one day if necessary.

“The Taiwan issue is about the political underpinnings of China-US relations which, unless handled properly, will have a subversive impact,” Yang was quoted as saying by China’s official Xinhua news agency.

“The United States should not have any errors of judgment or illusions (on Taiwan).”

A senior White House official said Sullivan reiterated the US policy of recognizing Chinese sovereignty, but expressed “concerns about Beijing’s coercive and aggressive actions across the Taiwan Strait.”

Tensions over Taiwan have escalated in recent months due to increased incursions by Chinese military aircraft into the island’s Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

US President Joe Biden, during a visit to Japan last month, appeared to shatter decades of US policy when, in response to a question, he said Washington would defend Taiwan militarily if attacked by China.

The White House has since insisted that its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over whether or not it will intervene has not changed.

The Sullivan-Yang meeting, which followed a May 18 phone call, lasted about four and a half hours, the White House official told reporters.

Xinhua said the talks were “frank, thorough and constructive”, while the White House statement described them as “frank, substantive and productive”.

red lines

US-China relations have deteriorated in recent years, with the two powers clashing over several issues, from international trade and security to human rights in China and, most recently, the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.

On Monday, Sullivan “stressed the importance of keeping lines of communication open in managing the competition between our two countries,” according to the White House.

Yang also agreed to maintain dialogue, Xinhua said, but made it clear that Beijing would not change its red lines.

“For quite some time…the US side has insisted on containing and suppressing China more comprehensively,” he said, according to Xinhua.

But “China strongly opposes the use of competition to define bilateral relations.”

According to the Xinhua reading, Yang “also declared China’s solemn position on issues concerning Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, the South China Sea, as well as human rights and religion.”

China’s treatment of Tibetans and Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the continued crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong have come under growing international condemnation.

But Beijing has bristled at any criticism, saying it will not tolerate any interference in its internal affairs.

It has also had to deal with a growing chorus of warnings from the United States and Western allies about its naval ambitions in the South China Sea, which it claims almost entirely.

There are competing claims from the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

US-China relations have entered tense new territory under former President Donald Trump, who sparked a trade war in response to what he described as China’s abusive trade practices.

Biden has said he is considering raising some tariffs to try to defuse runaway inflation at home.

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