Cheng Xiaonong: China-US Alaska meeting: quarrelsome start, empty-handed return

1, Alaska talks is a bilateral relations “ice breaker”, or a repeat of the Hawaii talks?

When China and the United States hold high-level diplomatic talks this Time, the outside world often focuses on “breaking the ice”. For example, the BBC published an analysis on March 17, “U.S.-China relations: top diplomats meet in Alaska, can “break the ice” into the point of view,” the article said, “China and the United States in economic and trade, human rights and many other issues have deep differences, bilateral relations fell to the lowest point in more than 40 years of diplomatic relations in the last year. The article said, “The bilateral relationship between China and the United States has fallen to its lowest point in more than 40 years of diplomatic relations.

Is the relationship between China and the U.S. only a result of economic, trade and human rights issues? China is not a democracy, human rights issues have existed since the middle of the last century, and economic and trade issues have existed for more than a decade, but haven’t all U.S. presidents (except Trump) been content to maintain the U.S.-China honeymoon? The real reason why Sino-US relations have been reduced to their lowest point since the establishment of diplomatic relations is that China has ignited the Sino-US Cold War and the national security of the US is under increasingly blatant and greater threat from China. This is the basic pattern of current U.S.-China relations.

In the first half of last year, the U.S.-China economic and trade talks were overturned by China because China refused to discuss the theft of intellectual property rights; at the same time, three PLA military threats against the United States (Navy exercises at Midway Island, control of the entire South China Sea as a “deep-sea fortress” for strategic nuclear submarines, and nuclear missiles through the Beidou satellite navigation system) have directly resulted in

At the time, Zhongnanhai’s Perception of U.S.-China relations was that the United States was economically inseparable from China, so it assumed that the United States had no choice but to let China do whatever it wanted, despite China’s military threats to the United States, massive intellectual property violations, long-standing trade surpluses, and widespread military and technological espionage in the United States. What Beijing hopes is to avoid a deterioration in U.S.-China relations through diplomatic engagement while the above activities are maintained. On June 17 last year, as requested by China, the U.S. arranged a face-to-face meeting between Secretary of State Pompeo and Yang Jiechi at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii.

During the meeting, Pompeo pointed out that China’s handling of some major issues, especially the new crown Epidemic, had harmed U.S. and global interests. China, for its part, insisted tongue-in-cheek that “cooperation is the only right choice for both sides.” In fact, what Beijing means by “cooperation” is that it wants everything to return to the indulgent state of China in the Obama era in terms of trade, economics and politics; Yang Jiechi does not acknowledge any of the practices that Pompeo pointed out that China has harmed U.S. interests. Due to the strong attitude of the Chinese side, the Hawaii talks yielded no tangible results. Then, starting in July, the United States adopted a series of counterattacks at the military, economic, espionage and political levels, and the Cold War between China and the United States was officially kicked off.

With the Hawaii talks as a lesson, can the Alaska talks “break the ice” this time? Once the Cold War is ignited by China, can a single diplomatic negotiation break the ice and warm the water? In fact, the cold war state, diplomacy is only a temporary buffer between the two sides of the cold war military and economic confrontation means, the pace of military expansion and preparedness will not be relaxed because of diplomatic negotiations, the two sides in the cold war who dare not saber into the treasury, the horse put the South Mountain. Today’s military confrontation between the U.S. and China has not gone as far as it did before the Pacific War began, but the U.S. military has warned that war could break out in the next few years as a result of a Chinese attack on Taiwan. Therefore, the arrow is on the string is the status quo of military confrontation between China and the U.S. This status quo is difficult to be dissolved by diplomatic negotiations.

2、Alaska talks out

Since the end of last year Beijing has been seeking a meeting between top Chinese and U.S. diplomatic officials, but the U.S. did not agree until recently. The U.S. side also took a lot of time to choose the location of the dialogue: Beijing could not go, and Washington could not come. The U.S. side did not want to give the impression that the U.S. was going to Beijing to curry favor with China, so U.S. personnel did not go to Beijing; Yang Jiechi was willing to go to Washington for talks and had publicly expressed this desire, but the U.S. side did not want him to go to Washington. In the end, the U.S. arranged the venue of the talks in Alaska.

In addition to Secretary of State Blinken, the U.S. side also arranged for National Security Advisor Sullivan to attend the talks, which was specifically for China’s consideration. According to the Voice of America, a senior U.S. official who has served in both the State Department and the NSC stressed that “China has played tricks to divide us in the past,” and that China would specifically release benefits to a particular U.S. government department, leading to internal conflicts in the U.S. government and even causing the secretary of state to confront the White House national security adviser. The arrangement for the national security adviser to meet with Chinese officials along with the secretary of state this time is to show that all branches of the U.S. government are on the same page and that “those Chinese tricks that have diverted us or tried to divert us in the past are not going to work this time.

Both the Alaska talks and the Hawaii talks were part of direct diplomacy between the two sides; prior to the Alaska talks, the United States also had indirect diplomatic influence on the U.S.-China talks through diplomatic talks with several countries in the Indo-Pacific region. The reason China has not taken the initiative to seek talks with its neighbors to enhance its international influence for the U.S.-China talks is that China has been striking out on all fronts after igniting the Sino-U.S. Cold War last year, demonstrating strong international ambitions and hegemonic postures, actions that have caused all kinds of unease among countries in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. The U.S. is negotiating with these countries to guard the first island chain and the Indo-Pacific region against China’s military threat, while China is unable to address the concerns of threatened countries through diplomacy if it does not intend to abandon its threats to neighboring countries. Beijing’s Foreign Ministry “War WolfZhao Lijian can only accuse the U.S. of engaging in “‘microphone diplomacy’ to set the pace, gang up on China and exert pressure on China.

  1. China’s Positioning and Expectations for the Alaska Talks

China has been looking forward to the talks from the very beginning, initially calling them an “ice-breaker” and then, on the eve of the talks, turning them into a “diplomatic reconnaissance”. China’s high expectations were first reflected in the positioning of the talks, with China insisting a week before the talks that they were a “strategic dialogue. The term began during the Bush presidency and refers to regular consultations on mutual cooperation, a mechanism that was further expanded during the Obama presidency and then called off by Trump. By positioning the talks in this way, China clearly hopes to give the impression, both at Home and among Chinese overseas, that U.S.-China relations will return to the Obama era. China hoped that the talks would be an “ice-breaker” for the strained relationship and pave the way for a return to good relations in the future, allowing the two countries to restart regular exchanges after this meeting.

However, such expectations were dashed by the U.S. A senior U.S. administration official said in a telephone briefing on March 16 that the Alaska meeting was a “one-time meeting” and that there would be no resumption of a specific dialogue mechanism or a joint statement. Secretary of State John Blinken said publicly that the meeting was not a strategic dialogue; he added, “There is no intention at this stage to have a series of follow-up contacts. If there is, it has to be based on the condition that we see substantial progress and concrete results from China in addressing our concerns.” Nonetheless, until Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi arrived in Alaska on March 18, Chinese official media still insisted on using the positioning of the “U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue” and refused to downgrade the level of the talks in line with the U.S. positioning. This is both to elevate themselves in terms of propaganda and to still have expectations for the “ice breaker.

China’s broad judgment of the international situation can be seen in an article in the Chinese official media, Dovetail News. The article says, “There is a long-suppressed optimism about the U.S.-China talks, from the world financial community to the Chinese financial community to many social levels, and everyone is happy to see China and the U.S. sitting down again and finally starting negotiations. Many people are optimistic about this and very much hope that the two sides can use this meeting to open up the situation and try to resume the previous smooth communication and exchange, preferably to restore the past level of U.S.-China relations …… Many U.S. allies cannot afford to immediately turn to the cost of confrontation with China. Even some industries and strategic research institutions within the U.S., based on their interests or respective judgments, hope that the Biden administration will have to change its past Trump-era policies, arguing that if the U.S. ‘shows goodwill’ to China and takes the initiative to open an opening, then China will really ‘move in the same direction ‘ and then everything will gradually improve in the future.”

What China expects is for the U.S. to reopen its safes and databases to Chinese technology spies, open its customs gates to Chinese dumped goods, open its shelves to Chinese pirated products, and then let Wall Street hand over large sums of money; as for other issues, such as military threats to the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific region, as well as China’s domestic human rights issues and the “abolition of As for other issues, such as military threats to the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific region, as well as China’s domestic human rights issues and the “abolition of “one country, two systems” for Hong Kong, all of which are its self-proclaimed “core interests,” China won’t budge. In a word, it just wants to take advantage and make the other side feel bad.

  1. U.S. Positioning and Stance on the Talks

From the U.S. side’s position on the talks, it is not prepared to negotiate on any specific issues in the talks, but only to express its own position. The U.S. side’s judgment is that China is currently harming U.S. interests and militarily threatening the U.S. military, while at the same time China wants technology and markets from the U.S. The dynamic between the two sides is that China is asking for and threatening the U.S. side, while the U.S. side does not have much to do with China that requires Chinese help. So, the U.S. side’s position on the talks is that since you are asking for something, you have to make some kind of concessions, especially on issues related to the political level. The U.S. side is prepared to hold a retreat-based diplomatic dialogue, trying to use diplomatic pressure to get China to lower its threatening posture toward the U.S. It also hopes that China will make positive changes on the political front before deciding, whether to talk to China about economic issues.

As a purely diplomatic negotiation, the U.S. side is not prepared to address the issue of military confrontation in the Alaska talks; the Chinese side, on the other hand, has never refused to admit that it engages in a great deal of activity that threatens the U.S. militarily, so the Chinese side does not mention military issues either. At the same time, the Chinese system puts military issues under the Central Military Commission, and Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi are purely diplomatic; the top brass in Zhongnanhai has never allowed diplomats to speak or negotiate on military issues, and they are largely ignorant of military activities.

What China wants to achieve in this meeting is mainly economic, other political topics are boring to it, and it wants a “pragmatic” meeting, while the United States excludes economic topics from the talks and only talks about political topics that China is tired of. In fact, the intentions of the two sides in this meeting are completely at odds, if not completely confrontational. The Chinese side insists that China does not accept the U.S. viewpoint on all topics at the political level, while the U.S. side insists that China’s economic intentions are not taken into account and only political topics are discussed. So the two sides will only quarrel, there will be no intersection or consensus, not to mention cooperation. The two sides were destined to end up in a quarrel even before they entered the meeting.

When Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi arrived in Alaska, they had more or less a glimmer of hope for the talks. At the press conference before the talks began, Yang Jiechi mentioned, “We thought too much of you,” a statement that exposed his frustration at the time. Before his departure, he judged that the U.S. side would more or less give in according to the intentions of the top brass, but this ray of hope was dashed by a pot of cold water from Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., who was waiting in Alaska in advance. Just before Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi left, the U.S. announced sanctions against 14 vice chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Only after arriving in Alaska did Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi realize that they had come for nothing, and thus became infuriated and reprimanded the U.S. officials in a condescending tone, disregarding diplomatic etiquette, when they met with reporters before the talks began. If there was any expectation of the outcome of the talks, they would not have opened with such an attitude; since they reprimanded the other side at the beginning, they were naturally prepared for a complete failure of the talks. The U.S. side’s diplomatic pressure also failed because China did not buy it at all, and in Yang Jiechi’s words, we “don’t eat this.

  1. The End of the Alaska Dialogue

The scheduled agenda for the talks was for each of the four main interlocutors to make a two-minute opening statement to reporters, and then move to closed-door talks. Blinken and Sullivan each spoke for two minutes; Yang Jiechi then broke the schedule by talking about China’s ambitious goals and then lecturing the United States in a condescending manner for 16 minutes. Blinken had to defend himself to the reporters against Yang Jiechi’s accusations. Instead of condemning China’s autocracy in a tit-for-tat manner, Blinken humbly said that the United States is not perfect as it is, that mistakes were made and misunderstandings corrected, and so on. The short meeting with reporters, which should have been limited to 10 minutes, was extended to nearly an hour and a half. Media reports from various countries about the talks were basically written around this public exchange.

After the talks, the Chinese side briefed only their own reporters, while Blinken and Sullivan held a press conference. At the press conference, Blinken said the U.S. raised the thorny topics of Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan and cyberattacks with the Chinese side. Unsurprisingly, the Chinese side again took a resistant response to these topics, “and when we raised these issues clearly and directly, we got a defensive response (from the Chinese side).” Blinken also mentioned that there is a “convergence of interests on Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and climate issues.”

The Alaska talks opened with a Chinese tantrum and ended with an all-or-nothing outcome. The topics on which Blinken says the two sides have some intersection of interests are marginal matters in the bilateral relationship; the so-called intersection of interests is not a basis for full cooperation, but only a limited similarity of considerations. For both sides, the Alaska dialogue will not be possible without talks, and talks will not be fruitful, as the pattern of the Cold War between the United States and China has in fact begun to escalate further.

For the U.S. political class, the talks have established only one thing, namely that China is unlikely to change its destructive intentions and actions against the existing global order; for the business community, its hopes for an improvement in U.S.-China relations in their favor have been dashed; and for China, its illusions about reversing the basic direction of Trump’s China Policy have been shattered, and it may take further provocative actions in the future. With the Alaska talks, China has turned U.S.-China diplomacy into confrontational diplomacy; and in the future, U.S. diplomacy with China will have little room for maneuver.