China says US ties in stalemate at start of Tianjin meeting

BEIJING (Bloomberg) China lashed out at US policies in a tense start to high-level talks in Tianjin, declaring the relationship between the world’s two largest economies in a "stalemate.”

Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng told visiting Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman that some Americans seek to portray China as an "imagined enemy,” according to accounts released by the Foreign Ministry as talks got underway. Still, Xie said Beijing was willing to seek common ground and deal with the US on an equal footing.

"The China-US relationship is now in a stalemate and faces serious difficulties,” Xie said, according to the ministry.

"The Chinese people look at things with eyes wide open. They see the competitive, collaborative and adversarial rhetoric as a thinly veiled attempt to contain and suppress China.”

Those comments marked a rebuke of phrasing used by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said in March that Washington’s dealings with Beijing were the defining test of the century. The challenge facing Washington and Beijing with these meeting is showing they can get to grips with their disagreements without appearing to domestic audiences that they are giving ground.

The US' No. 2 diplomat was slated to meet later Monday with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The talks in the Tianjin, about 60 miles east of the capital Beijing, represent the highest-level face-to-face meeting between the two sides since an acrimonious exchange in March in Alaska. If they are fruitful, they could set up a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping, possibly at a Group of 20 summit in October.

The US had has not yet released its account of the Xie-Sherman meeting.

The visit follows a series of Biden administration actions challenging China’s red lines on what it considers its internal affairs, prompting Beijing to protest and announce fresh sanctions against Americans including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Sherman intends to raise concerns about human rights in places such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang while seeking to reassure Beijing that the US isn’t building an anti-China coalition, senior administration officials told reporters Saturday.

High-level engagement is needed to ensure responsible management of US.-China ties and cooperation on issues of common interest, such as climate change, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because the meeting’s agenda hasn’t been made public.

Sherman’s trip is part of a broad US diplomatic push in the region, as Biden attempts to extract American forces from Afghanistan and bolster Washington’s frayed foreign relationships to better answer the challenges posed by China’s rise.

Blinken is slated to visit India this week while Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin is travelling to Singapore, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In Tokyo last week, Sherman along with her Japanese and South Korean counterparts discussed preserving peace in the Taiwan Strait, a reference to China’s military pressure campaign against the democratically ruled island. The statement prompted protests from China, with Zhao saying the US and Japan are "stuck in the Cold War mentality” and deliberately seeking bloc confrontation and attempting to form an "anti-China encirclement.”

Separately, the US and numerous allies blamed the Microsoft Exchange hack to actors affiliated with the Chinese government and said Beijing’s leadership was responsible for an array of "malicious cyber activities.”

The US also charged four Chinese nationals linked to the Ministry of State Security with a campaign to hack into computer systems of companies, universities and government entities.

China and the US are also at odds over the coronavirus.

The White House said on Thursday China was "stonewalling” a World Health Organization probe into the origins of SARS-CoV-2, including the possibility it escaped from a lab.

Chinese officials said earlier that day there was no evidence for the theory the virus leaked from a facility in Wuhan, the city where it was first observed in humans, and that no further resources should be put into such a probe.

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