US-China relations: Beijing lays down red lines for first time in Sherman meeting

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China has for the first time given the US a list of red lines and remedial action it must take to repair relations, including lifting sanctions and dropping its extradition request for Huawei financial chief Meng Wanzhou.

Chinese foreign vice-minister Xie Feng told US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman on Monday morning that US-China relations had reached a “stalemate” and faced “serious consequences”, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

“The foundational reason is that some people in the US are treating China as an ‘imagined enemy’,” it quoted Xie as saying.

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After the meeting, Xie said China gave two lists to the US – one with one remedial action for Washington to take towards China, and the other a series of Beijing’s key concerns.

Items on the remedial list include lifting the visa restrictions on Communist Party members, their families, and Chinese students; lifting the sanctions imposed on Chinese leaders, government officials and agencies; removing restrictions on Confucius Institutes and Chinese companies; cancelling rulings determining Chinese media as foreign agents; and dropping its request to extradite Meng from Canada.

China promises US a ‘tutorial’ in treating countries equally

Items on the list of concerns include addressing unfair treatment of Chinese citizens in the United States, harassment of the Chinese embassy and its consulates, the rise of anti-Asian and anti-Chinese sentiment, and violence against Chinese citizens.

Xie said the Chinese side also “expressed its strong dissatisfaction towards the wrong remarks and actions of the US” in relation to investigations into the origins of Covid-19, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

“We urge the United States not to underestimate the strong determination, firm will and strong ability of the 1.4 billion Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests,” state news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

Before the meeting on Monday, both sides were wrangling for the upper hand, with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saying China would give the US a “tutorial” on how to treat other nations equally. A senior US official said Sherman would engage China from a position of “strength and solidarity”.

Sherman is expected to meet Wang in Tianjin, an hour from the capital Beijing, on Monday afternoon.

Xie also slammed the US government for engaging in “all-encompassing containment of China” to restrict the country’s development and to continue US hegemony.

He said some had sought to demonise China to distract from domestic problems in the US, likening the conflict between the two countries to the “Pearl Harbour moment” or the “Sputnik moment” – turning points for the US against Japan in World War II and the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

“The US side talks about China at every turn, and it seems as if it is unable to speak or do anything if it does not involve China,” he was quoted as saying. “We urge the US side to change its incorrect thinking and very dangerous policy towards China.”

Xie added that China was willing to engage the US as equals and to “seek common ground while reserving differences” and he urged the US to choose the path of “mutual respect, fair competition, and peaceful coexistence”.

The meeting follows Sherman’s trip last week to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia, where she sought to highlight Washington’s commitment to its partners in the region to “advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, and uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order”.

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The Tianjin stop was originally left off her itinerary while China and the US were negotiating the details. Sherman was originally seeking a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s inner circle.

Expectations are not high for any breakthrough developments, but observers say that dialogue itself is critical, as tensions have continued to intensify since the acrimonious meeting in March between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s most senior foreign policy official Yang Jiechi.

The meeting also comes on the heels of the US and its allies – including the European Union, Australia, Britain, New Zealand and Japan – warning China about its “malicious cyber activities”, as well as US sanctions on Hong Kong officials and reciprocal Chinese sanctions.

US officials have said they hope Sherman’s meetings in Tianjin will yield “frank and open discussion”, including progress towards “guardrails and parameters” to prevent sustained competition between the powers from turning into conflict.

There will be a focus on imposing costs for certain Chinese behaviours – including on issues involving Xinjiang and forced labour claims there – as well as areas for cooperation, such as on climate change, they said.

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