US and Chinese officials meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, ended talks Friday that national security adviser Jake Sullivan described as “tough and direct” and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said made the Chinese “defensive.”
“We certainly know and knew going in that there are a number of areas where we are fundamentally at odds, including China’s actions in Xinjinag, with regard to Hong Kong, Tibet, increasingly Taiwan, as well as actions it is taking in cyberspace,” Blinken said, speaking to reporters with Sullivan after the last session of talks wrapped on Friday. “It’s no surprise that when we raised those issues clearly and directly, we got a defensive response. But we were also able to have a very candid conversation over these many hours on an expansive agenda.”
Blinken said that the US had two priorities – laying out US and international concerns about China’s behavior and conveying the Biden administration’s positions.
“We expected to have tough and direct talks on a wide range of issues, and that’s exactly what we had,” Sullivan added. “We had the opportunity to lay out our priorities and intentions and hear from the Chinese side their priorities and intentions.”
Blinken and Sullivan sat down with China’s foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi and the country’s State Councilor Wang Yi for three sessions over two days that opened with a rare display of public bickering.
The extraordinary interaction unfolded in front of reporters at the start of Thursday’s meetings when Chinese officials ignored protocol to rebut Blinken’s description of Washington’s “deep concerns” about some of China’s actions and vociferously criticize the US, the state of its democracy and domestic racial tensions. Blinken then brought the cameras back into the room to offer his own, unscripted rebuttal from the Chinese officials.
By evening, the Chinese had accused the US delegation of being “condescending” in its tone, while a US official said the representatives from Beijing seemed “intent on grandstanding.”
A united front
President Joe Biden said Friday he was “proud” of Blinken.
“I’m very proud of the secretary of state,” Biden said when asked by reporters on the South Lawn for his reaction to the blistering exchange between the two sides.
The President’s endorsement sends a strong signal to the Chinese that the tone struck at Thursday’s meeting – a forceful US critique of China’s behavior domestically in places like Xinjiang and overseas, as well as Blinken’s pushback – has the full backing of the administration and that US officials are speaking with one voice.
Sullivan said that he and Blinken “were clear-eyed coming in, we’re clear-eyed coming out, and we will go back to Washington to take stock of where we are.” That will involve consultations with allies and partners and on the way forward, he said.
Blinken said the pair told the Chinese that the administration’s policy review continues. “On economics, on trade, on technology, we told our counterparts that we are reviewing these issues with close consultation with Congress, with our allies and partners, and we will move forward on them in a way that fully protects and advances the interests of our workers and our businesses,” he said.
Even as the Biden administration makes clear its areas of concern, they have also repeatedly stressed that they are ready and willing to work with China on areas of mutual interest and concern.
“Of course, on issues ranging from Iran to Afghanistan, through the normal diplomatic channels, we’ll continue to work with China on the way going forward,” Sullivan said.
On Thursday, after the public clash, a senior administration official said, “after the pool spray, Secretary Blinken opened the discussion, and both sides immediately got down to business,” and added that the first session of talks “was substantive, serious, and direct.”
“We used the session, just as we had planned, to outline our interests and priorities, and we heard the same from our Chinese counterparts,” they said.
“In fact, the discussion went well beyond the 2 hours we had allotted,” the official said in a statement to the press.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.