US, China look to shore up ties with allies after Alaska clash

Sarah Zheng
·4-min read

The United States and China are moving to bolster relations with their respective allies and partners, on the heels of talks in Alaska that laid bare the deep rift between the two powers.

After last week’s fiery exchange between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Blinken met his Nato counterparts in Brussels on Tuesday, telling them the transatlantic security alliance should be “focused on some of the challenges that China poses to the rules-based international order”.

US President Joe Biden will join the European Union’s minister meetings by video link on Thursday to discuss revitalising ties between the US and Europe, along with shared foreign policy interests including on China and Russia.

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The talks follow the Alaska confrontation, where Blinken stressed “deep concerns” over Beijing’s repression in Xinjiang and Hong Kong as well as economic coercion of US allies, and Yang slammed Washington for exercising “long-arm jurisdiction and suppression” and over human rights. While the two sides agreed to set up a working group on climate change, the fireworks showed they remain far apart on issues such as human rights and China’s actions in cyberspace.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi returned home from the Alaska meeting to host his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in the southern city of Guilin on Monday and Tuesday, with the two sides agreeing to “work together against sanctions” from the US and its allies.

“[Western powers] should know that the days when they can arbitrarily interfere in China’s internal affairs by making up stories and lies are long gone,” Wang was quoted as saying during the talks.

The two foreign ministers also addressed their respective relations with the US, calling on Washington to “reflect on the damage it has done to global peace and development in recent years, halt unilateral bullying, stop meddling in other countries’ domestic affairs and stop forming small circles to seek bloc confrontation”, according to a statement from China’s foreign ministry.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Guilin on Tuesday. Photo: Handout via Reuters
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Guilin on Tuesday. Photo: Handout via Reuters

Wang will also begin a tour of the Middle East on Wednesday until March 30, in a bid to boost ties in the oil-rich region that is key to China’s energy security. The foreign minister will travel to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman.

Liu Weidong, a US affairs specialist from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was not clear whether China’s recent foreign policy activities were related to the combative environment at the Alaska talks since the meeting with Russia’s foreign minister was likely planned well in advance.

Alaska summit: what the US and China agree on, and what still divides them

But Liu said Biden’s government had already made clear it wanted to coordinate with allies, and the Alaska meeting may have hardened its inclination to do so, faced with a more aggressive Beijing that was unwilling to make concessions.

“Right now, they are just aligned on public opinion and on some issues like human rights, but the impact on China is not big,” he said. “In the future, there may be more substantial coordination on economic issues, or those in the South China Sea or Taiwan, which would put greater pressure on China and have a larger impact.”

While Beijing has called for a strategic reset with the new administration, relations between the world’s two largest economies continue to be strained over a host of issues, even as Biden’s team has signalled some room for cooperation in areas such as climate change.

There have also been growing tensions between China and other Western democracies, with coordinated sanctions from the EU, the US, Canada and Britain over Beijing’s repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, which Beijing countered with its own sanctions on the EU.

Washington has made clear that it will work closely with allies to address its strategic focus on China, with State Department spokesman Ned Price releasing statements on Tuesday backing the concerns of allies Canada and the Philippines.

Price expressed worries over the lack of transparency in trials for Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who were detained in China in what was seen as a retaliatory measure for Canada’s detention of Chinese tech executive Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition request. In a separate statement, he also called on Beijing to stop using its military militia to “intimidate and provoke others”, over concerns in the Philippines about a Chinese naval presence near the disputed Whitsun Reef in the South China Sea.

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