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China Berates U.S. in Alaska Showdown

Yang Jiechi’s statements, though pointed, are better viewed through a domestic lens.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
U.S. and Chinese representatives meet in Alaska.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, speaks while facing Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, in Anchorage, Alaska, on March 18. FREDERIC J. BROWN/POOL/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-China talks endure rocky opening, Russian President Vladimir Putin challenges U.S. President Joe Biden after “killer” comment, and Europe’s medicine agency clears the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: U.S.-China talks endure rocky opening, Russian President Vladimir Putin challenges U.S. President Joe Biden after “killer” comment, and Europe’s medicine agency clears the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

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

An Explosive Start to U.S.-China Talks

Discussions between top U.S. and Chinese officials are set to continue this morning in Anchorage, Alaska, after a day of talks that was marked by an unapologetic opening diatribe from a senior Chinese official.

The meeting began with an opening statement by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken laying out U.S. concerns with Chinese actions over Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan as well as recent cyberattacks. “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” Blinken said.

Yang Jiechi, a top-ranking diplomat and former Chinese ambassador to the United States, then excoriated the United States in a 15-minute speech, during which he charged the United States with hypocrisy on human rights and its treatment of minorities, criticized U.S. foreign interventions, and accused U.S. officials of possessing a “cold war mentality.”

“The United States does not represent international public opinion and neither does the western world,” Yang said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi then followed Yang’s remarks, offering a more conciliatory tone, recognizing Blinken and Sullivan as “true friends of the Chinese people,” while questioning the timing of a U.S. decision to sanction Chinese officials over Hong Kong on the eve of the meeting.

The unexpected outburst from Yang prompted a further response from U.S. officials, as Blinken asked the press to remain in the room while he delivered a careful rebuttal and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan provided a follow-up.

Grandstanding. Following the meeting, a senior administration official released a statement criticizing the Chinese for “violating protocol” by going over the two-minute limit set for opening statements and accused the Chinese delegation of “grandstanding” and focusing on “public theatrics and dramatics over substance.”

The episode is unlikely to rattle the Biden team, but should continue the current of distrust felt by White House officials. As Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsh wrote on Wednesday, the Biden administration “is preparing for a long-term struggle of wills with little hope of rapprochement.”

Playing to the home crowd? As with so much in public diplomacy, and as the U.S. official noted, the conduct of the Chinese officials has to be considered with a domestic audience in mind. “Yang and Wang have to prove themselves in an official climate back home where anything other than aggressive yelling would be painted by their political rivals as treason or weakness,” said Foreign Policy’s James Palmer, the author of the weekly China Brief. The pressure is that much higher on Yang, Palmer notes, whose overseas education is already met with suspicion from his colleagues.

What We’re Following Today 

Putin challenges Biden. Russian President Vladimir Putin has challenged President Biden to join him in a live online dialogue after Biden agreed with the assertion that Putin was a “killer” in a television interview. The comment has soured already poor relations between the two sides as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it showed Biden “definitely does not want to improve relations” with Russia.

In reacting to Biden’s comment at a press conference on Thursday, Putin offered a long reflection, appearing to flip the accusation back on the U.S. president. “When we evaluate other people, states and nations, we always seem to be looking in the mirror,” Putin said. “We always see ourselves. We always pass on to another person what we ourselves are in essence,”

“In childhood, when we argued with each other, we said: ‘He who calls names is called that himself.’ This is no coincidence, this is not just a childish joke, it has a very deep psychological meaning.”

Michael Spavor’s day in court.  The trial of a Canadian businessman in a Chinese court ended without a verdict on Friday as diplomats from nine countries were denied access to observe proceedings. Michael Spavor was detained in 2018 along with a second Canadian, Michael Kovrig, in what was considered a retaliatory move by Beijing following the arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver. Kovrig’s trial is expected to take place on Monday. Chinese officials have denied allegations that the timing of the trials are linked to the U.S.-China meeting in Alaska.

EMA clears AstraZeneca. The European Medicines Agency said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was “safe and effective” following an expert review after several European countries suspended its use earlier in the week. The EMA said that the vaccine did not increase the risk of blood clots and “likely reduces the risk of thrombotic incidents overall.” Italy will resume its AstraZeneca rollout today, while Germany, France, and Spain have all said they will soon follow suit.

Keep an Eye On

Armenia’s elections. Armenia is set to hold snap elections in June as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan seeks to quell months of unrest following his decision to sign a controversial peace deal with Azerbaijan. Pashinyan faced pressure to resign in a letter signed by the country’s military establishment in February, which the prime minister deemed a coup attempt. His subsequent dismissal of the country’s highest-ranking military officer was blocked by President Armen Sarkissian.

U.S. to share vaccines. The United States has bowed to calls from its neighbors to share some of its coronavirus vaccine stockpile. Although a deal is not yet finalized, the United States is set to share 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine—which U.S. regulators have not yet approved—with Canada and Mexico in a “loan” arrangement, as global delivery delays hamper vaccine efforts. The deal should help with the vaccine rollout in both countries: 5.5 percent of Canadians have received a vaccine dose so far, while only 3.2 percent of Mexicans have.

Odds and Ends

Russia’s Eurovision song entry is the latest to be investigated for its lyrical content following the rejection of Belarus’s entry earlier this month. While the Belarusian song was blocked for being perceived as too pro-government, it is Russia’s governmental authorities who are raising the alarm this time.

Manizha Sangin, known as Manizha, is set to sing “Russian Woman,” a rap-infused anthem urging women’s independence and resistance to sexism, at this year’s contest, although that could be derailed if Russia’s Investigative Committee finds “illegal statements” in her lyrics.

The case against Manizha has been raised by a number of conservative groups, including the Russian Union of Orthodox Women, who said the song incites “hatred towards men, which undermines the foundations of a traditional family.”

That’s it for today.

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

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