Sparks Fly at the First Meeting Between Top Biden and Beijing Officials

A diplomatic encounter turned into a surprise spar in front of reporters.
Biden Blinken first meeting China
“This is not the way to treat your guests,” the Chinese government said. Photo: Frederic J. BROWN / POOL / AFP

The United States and China had an unusually combative meeting as officials from the two biggest economies held their first face-to-face meeting since Joe Biden became president. 

In front of cameras in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan traded verbal attacks with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and State Councilor Wang Yi. 


The confrontations marked a tough start in the U.S.-China relationship under Biden, who appears to be carrying on Donald Trump’s hard-line approach to China despite Beijing’s wishes to reset their ties after Biden took office.

Here are the five of the most heated exchanges that happened during the meeting, played out in full view of reporters.

1. ‘Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan’

Beijing’s human rights abuse against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang, crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, and pressure to draw self-ruled Taiwan into its orbit have been major flashpoints in U.S.-China relations.

In his opening remarks, Antony Blinken said he planned to discuss “deep concerns” with China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, as well as alleged Chinese cyber attacks on the U.S. and economic coercion of America's allies. 

 “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said. 


Chinese officials stood by its long-time position that policies on the three regions are China’s internal affairs, and the U.S. should not interfere. 

2. ‘Slaughter of black people’

Beijing hit back at Washington’s criticism of its rights abuse by pointing out racism and other longstanding problems in the U.S.

In his opening remarks, Yang said in Chinese that the “slaughter of black people” had been a deep-rooted issue in the U.S.

“For our two countries, we should manage our respective affairs well, instead of deflecting the blame to somebody else in this world,” he said. 

Antony Blinken later responded that America had made mistakes in the past, but was willing to confront the problems. 

He had asked reporters to stay after Yang and Wang finished their speeches. “Hold on one second,” he said as the press were leaving. “Given your extended remarks, permit me please just to add a few of my own before we get down to work.”

“What we’ve done throughout our history is to confront those challenges—openly, publicly, transparently—not trying to ignore them, not trying to pretend they don’t exist,” Blinken continued. “Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s ugly. But each and every time we’ve come out stronger, better, more united, as a country.” 

3. ‘Wars were started by others’

Criticizing Washington’s attempt to promote democracy abroad, Yang said, “The wars in this world were started by others, and plunged many people into misery.”

“[Countries] should not rely on their military force and conducting invasions everywhere, trying to topple legitimate governments in other countries and slaughter their people.


“What America needs to do right now is to change its own image, instead of promoting its so-called democracy.

“You have admitted yourselves it does not work to use force to solve problems in the world,” he said. “You have admitted yourself it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called authoritarian states.”

4. ‘Never a good bet’ 

At the end of this speech, Blinken quoted what Biden said when he visited China in 2011 as vice president, when he met with then China’s Vice-President Xi Jinping. 

“Vice President Biden at the time said, ‘it’s never a good bet to bet against America,’” Blinken said. “That remains true today.” 

Beijing did not back down. “Let me say here that in front of the Chinese side, the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength,” Yang said.

5. ‘Not the way to treat your guests’ 

The two countries’ arguments even went after their first meeting. Following the meeting, a U.S. official told reporters that the Chinese side had violated the agreement to two-minute opening statements. Yang delivered a 16-minute speech in Chinese. 

“The Chinese delegation… seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official told reporters in Alaska, according to Reuters

The official dismissed the Chinese remarks as “exaggerated diplomatic presentations” aimed at a domestic audience.

Beijing, however, said it was the U.S. that went overtime first.

“The American side seriously went overtime in their opening speech, and made unfounded attacks toward China’s domestic and foreign policies,” a statement released on state media said. “This is not the way to treat your guests.”

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.