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Low Expectations for U.S.-China Alaska Meeting

Although both sides have played down today’s meeting, a positive start could lay the groundwork for a Xi-Biden summit in April.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi answers questions.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on screen, answers a question during a video news conference as part of the National People’s Congress in Beijing on March 7. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. and Chinese officials meet for first high-level in-person talks of Biden presidency, election exit polls point to a victory for Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands, and North Korea shuts down U.S. diplomacy attempts.

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S. and Chinese officials meet for first high-level in-person talks of Biden presidency, election exit polls point to a victory for Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands, and North Korea shuts down U.S. diplomacy attempts.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


U.S. and China Hold First In-Person Talks

U.S. and Chinese diplomatic heavyweights meet today in Anchorage, Alaska for the first in-person talks between the two countries since U.S. President Joe Biden took office. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fresh off a four-day Asia tour, is joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan as they settle in for roughly nine hours of talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and high-ranking diplomat Yang Jiechi.

The Biden administration has played down any likelihood of a swift improvement in relations as a result of the meeting and prefigured as much by issuing a new string of sanctions on Wednesday against two dozen Chinese officials deemed to have helped undermine Hong Kong’s partial autonomy. Cui Tiankai, China’s ambassador to the United States, said Beijing is not expecting any breakthroughs either, saying “we don’t hold overly high hopes.”

“The talks are more likely to be an airing of grievances than an exchange of views,” Foreign Policy’s James Palmer writes in the latest China Brief.

If today’s talks are unlikely to reset relations in a post-Trump era, that’s because the Biden administration isn’t particularly keen on doing so. In an analysis in advance of today’s meeting, Foreign Policy senior correspondent Michael Hirsh charted the evolution of the administration’s thinking on China ever since former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s time in office. “Both Democrats and Republicans in Washington have belatedly realized that … China is not going to change, at least not swiftly or easily.”

Xi-Biden soon? The frosty tone being set before today’s meeting doesn’t mean that all prospects for cooperation are off the table. Climate change remains a key agenda item for Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping as both countries seek to cut emissions—and win the technological race to greener energy. The Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese officials will propose a follow up summit between Xi and Biden on April 22—Earth Day—if today’s talks go well.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s recently appointed climate change guru, and John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, worked hand in hand on the 2015 Paris climate accord, and, as Melinda Liu writes, that could make climate talks “a safe channel for bilateral communications, echoing the kinder, gentler tone of years past.”

The new “enemy.” While the United States digs in for the long haul, Americans are more suspicious of China than ever before. A new Gallup poll found that 45 percent of Americans see China as the country’s “greatest enemy,” a jump of 23 percent from the previous year, while the poll found only 20 percent held a favorable view of China. Time will tell whether the sentiment is fleeting; 20 percent of Americans called Iran their greatest enemy in 2020 only for that level of animus to decline to 9 percent in 2021.


What We’re Following Today

Rutte wins in the Netherlands. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is on course for reelection as exit polls predict his People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) made a two-seat improvement on its 2017 result, while the far-right Party for Freedom is projected to lose three seats. The pro-European Democrats 66 Party, a junior partner in Rutte’s previous coalition, looks to have won the highest number of seats in its history, coming a strong second behind the VVD.

Tanzania’s political future. Tanzanian Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan is in line to become the country’s first female leader following the death of President John Magufuli.

Hassan made the surprise announcement on Tuesday, saying Magufuli had died of heart failure. Opposition leader Tundu Lissu alleged last week that the president had contracted COVID-19 and had received treatment in Kenya and India. Magufuli, who made headlines over the past year for his dismissal of the coronavirus pandemic, had just won a second five-year term in last October’s election. If Hassan does assume the presidency, she would be the first Zanzibari to hold the position.

North Korea rebuffs U.S. Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister, has dismissed attempted U.S. communication as a “time-delaying trick” and pledged to ignore U.S. entreaties until the Biden administration alters its approach. “What has been heard from the U.S. since the emergence of the new regime is only a lunatic theory of ‘threat from North Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization,’” she said.


Keep an Eye On

Canada’s “two Michaels.” China will soon begin the trials of the two Canadians arrested in apparent retaliation for the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver in 2018. Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau insisted there is no justifiable case against Michael Spavor or Michael Kovrig and that they are the victims of arbitrary detention. Spavor’s court hearing is set for Friday while Kovrig’s is on Monday, according to the Canadian government. Writing in Foreign Policy in February, Stephen M. Walt explored the logic of “hostage diplomacy” and why states use individuals as “diplomatic pawns.”

The HDP’s future. A top Turkish prosecutor has filed a case in Turkey’s constitutional court calling for the dissolution of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), currently the third largest grouping in the Turkish parliament. “The closure case launched against our party is a heavy blow to democracy and law,” the HDP said in a statement, adding that it would continue its “determined struggle for democratic politics.” The move comes as a prominent HDP member of parliament, Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, was expelled from the body over a 2016 social media post he retweeted that called for peace with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and the United States.


Odds and Ends

Taiwan’s interior ministry has reminded residents of the risks of changing their names to take advantage of a free sushi promotion. For a limited time, Akindo Sushiro, a popular conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, is giving a free sushi meal to anyone whose name contains the Chinese characters for salmon (guiyu, 鮭魚), prompting a flood of name change requests to household registration offices.

The Taipei Times spoke with a student who had changed her name to “Kuo Salmon Rice Bowl” for the day, and planned to change it back the next day. The restaurant said that at least 1,000 people had participated in the promotion.

Taiwanese authorities have warned bargain hunters of the perils of the strategy, issuing a reminder on Facebook that one can only legally change their name three times before they are stuck with their last change.


That’s it for today.

For more from FP, visit foreignpolicy.com, subscribe here, or sign up for our other newsletters. We welcome your feedback at morningbrief@foreignpolicy.com.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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