Seriously Misjudging the US, Beijing’s Tough Stance in Alaska Reflects Its Anger and Embarrassment
March 23, 2021
The high-level U.S.-China talks in Alaska began with a head-to-head battle, a rare occurrence in the U.S.-China diplomacy. Having misjudged the United States’ political situation, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been feeling frustrated and trapped, and Chinese diplomats finally flew into a shameful rage in Anchorage.
The highest-ranking U.S. and Chinese diplomats finally met in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18. I say “finally” because senior officials of the two countries have not met formally since former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese foreign policy official Yang Jiechi met in Hawaii last July. Not only that, according to the Chinese side, the United States and China have cut off almost all high-level communication channels. That’s why the bilateral meeting in Anchorage drew so much global attention.
The two sides began harshly accusing each other as soon as the talks began. The opening conversation was accompanied by a strong “smell of gunpowder and drama,” Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said a March 19 press conference.
No matter from what perspective we look at the blowup between the two sides in Anchorage, I’m afraid that there won’t be a lot of results coming out of future talks, and there is a high probability that the talks will end up with nothing definitive.
What did the officials talk about at the meeting? Who was the first to break the protocols and speak for more than the agreed upon two minutes during the opening remarks? I believe you’ve already made your own judgment. All this doesn’t matter. What matters is, why?
CCP Views America as Being in Decline
“Make no mistake about it: The Chinese Communist Party believes that America is in decline, that they’re on the rise, and they intend to take full advantage of that,” Pompeo told Newsmax TV host Grant Stinchfield in an interview on March 18.
“Call them an enemy. Call them an adversary. Call them what you will. But it is their intention to be the dominant power in the world, and they intend to do so quickly,” Pompeo said.
He added that the CCP will not relent and will achieve its goals if the Biden administration lets its guard down.
“The way they speak about this is they want to be the dominant power,” Pompeo said. “They want to have the ability to exert their political influence, their military influence, anywhere in the world, so that they can shape the global outcomes to benefit them.”
Pompeo stressed that he condemned the Chinese Communist Party and not the Chinese people. “When I say them, I mean their party, the Communist Party, not the Chinese people.”
“The reality is that their words don’t mean a heck of a lot,” Pompeo said. “They will try to delay and press their advantage.”
“What the administration needs to do is be strong, to impose real cost on China when they misbehave, and to make sure that American freedom and security are at the front of every policy element with respect to China.”
Pompeo has two concerns: the CCP will stall for time through negotiations and the Biden administration may appear tough on the surface, but is weak behind the scenes.
He pointed out that Secretary of State Antony Blinken may talk tough in public, but in the end, he will try to privately reach a deal on the CCP’s terms rather than on behalf of the American people.
As a former top U.S. diplomat, Pompeo certainly understands the CCP’s negotiating skills. In fact, this strategy has been used even before the CCP was established. I’d like to point out that the CCP only employs delaying tactics when it doesn’t have the upper hand.
Not Interfering in China’s ‘Internal Affairs’
The Chinese want to save face—this is something that all U.S. Department of State officials understand. The CCP laid out a few points ahead of the talks. First, the United States should lift tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and lift various sanctions on technology and other areas. Second, the CCP made a strong statement that all of China’s “internal affairs,” including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, are “not to be interfered with.”
The State Department announced on March 17 that it had issued sanctions against 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials over Beijing’s ongoing suppression of freedom in Hong Kong. This was a slap in the face for the CCP.
If the United States knows that the CCP needs to save face but insists on making such a move, it shows that the U.S. side clearly doesn’t expect or even want any “positive results” from this meeting.
The CCP also didn’t expect a major breakthrough in this meeting, but it hoped for some so-called constructive results. Before the talks began, the Chinese side revealed two main goals. One was to set up regular communication channels, such as meeting once a month, and the other was to arrange a video call between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden in late April.
But the U.S. side appeared cold, denying not only that the meeting was a high-level strategic dialogue, but also denying that it was the beginning of a series of regular meetings, and even hinting that it wouldn’t seek a video meeting with Xi. This is tantamount to a full rejection of the CCP’s demands.
Clearly, Blinken’s hardline attitude is a result of the U.S. side’s perception of the bilateral relation’s current and future development, rather than a superficial statement of position.
CNN reported that a senior administration official told reporters that the CCP delegation came to Alaska with a theatrical purpose. “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official said. Why do the Chinese diplomats want to do that? He added that the CCP delegation’s “exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience.”
I think this official is right. Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi were indeed acting tough, certainly for the Chinese audience in the mainland. But the question is, why do they want to show it to a domestic audience at this time?
US Socially Unstable, Politically Divided
The CCP actually had high expectations before the bilateral talks. Their expectations were based on a few basic assumptions about the current state of affairs in the United States.
First, they believe that the United States is now socially unstable and politically divided and that its decline is inevitable. The CCP is a totalitarian system and their understanding of its internal political environment greatly influences and even determines its perception of others.
What would happen in China if the CCP were faced with the problems currently existing in the United States, where political opponents are openly confronting each other, tensions in society are rising, and the economic situation is uncertain? These events would be a precursor to the collapse of the regime as the CCP would lose control over society. I think the CCP naturally comes to the same conclusion of what’s in store for the United States.
Alexander Liao is a columnist and journalist in research on international affairs in the United States, China, and Southeast Asia. He has published a large number of reports, commentaries, and video programs in newspapers and Chinese financial magazines in the United States and Hong Kong.