China defies U.S. pressure to change behavior

As U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman prepared to fly to China this weekend, Beijing slapped sanctions on seven Americans, in a tit-for-tat blow that demonstrates the unfortunate state of US relations -Central.

US officials said the move, a retaliation blow to Washington’s imposition of sanctions on seven Chinese officials in Hong Kong, would not give Beijing any leverage as Sherman met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday.

But the latest meeting underscores the deepening gap between the United States and China as the countries prepare for their second high-level meeting since Joe Biden took office.

During his first six months in office, Biden took a hard line on China, punishing Beijing for its suppression of freedoms in Hong Kong and its crackdown on the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. in Xinjiang and military operations near Taiwan. The president hopes that this strategy, reinforced by working with allies, will help the United States win what he sees as an existential struggle between democracies and autocracies. .

Oriana Skylar Mastro, a China expert at Stanford University, said Biden has successfully demonstrated to China that US discontent is not limited to the previous administration in Washington. But he added that there was no indication he had persuaded Chinese President Xi Jinping to change his mind.

“Unfortunately, they decided to double down on all of their problematic behavior,” he said. “I don’t think they looked in the mirror the way we wanted to.”

Yang Jiechi, China’s top foreign policy official, ended his first acrimonious meeting with Biden administration officials in March by declaring that the United States was no longer talking to China “since a strong position”.

Beijing has continued to resist pressure from Washington. Last month, it passed an anti-sanctions law that would allow sanctions to be imposed on anyone who helps other countries target China with sanctions.

While Beijing shows no sign of flinching, the Biden administration argues that its multilateral approach has made life more difficult for China. This has included coordinated action with the EU, UK and Canada to impose sanctions on Xinjiang and deepen the “Quad” initiative with Japan, Australia and India.

“These multilateral actions have really caught the attention of Beijing and in some cases. . . In fact, it has led Beijing to take real measures that are likely to go against its own interests,” a senior US official said, noting that China’s retaliatory actions against EU nationals has jeopardized an important investment treaty.

Bonny Lin, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Biden has convinced allies to express concerns about China’s behavior towards Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. “The question is to what extent the current measures will change China, but from the US point of view, we oppose the various questionable actions China is taking,” said Lin. present in all three regions”.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. The US has held high-level meetings with Chinese officials even as pressure mounts on the government Xi Jinping © Reuters

Eric Sayers, an Asia security expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Biden has scored “remarkable victories” by activating the Quad, deepening ties with Taiwan, and implementing a multilateral approach to human rights abuses and violence. China’s Cyber ​​War. But he said it would be a “difficult task” to translate areas of concern between Asian and European partners into joint action, including on export controls.

Sayers said the Biden administration also has more work to do on other issues, including ensuring that the US military budget and strategy is adjusted to respond to the “conventional military imbalance” with the US military. China, and addressing related challenges. technology, such as Beijing’s push to develop a digital yuan.

Even as China takes an increasingly defiant stance, some experts say it lacks confidence in its image and that Xi wants a summit with Biden at the G20 in Italy. One of the issues Sherman is expected to discuss with Vuong. in Tianjin. . Such a summit could be used to try to weed out criticism of China’s “wolf warrior” diplomacy and human rights practices.

Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a China expert at the Taiwan Next Generation Foundation, said, “Maintaining the image of a strong and globally respected China also serves Xi’s national agenda to preserve protect his personal power.

Sana Hashmi, an expert with the Asia-Taiwan Exchange Foundation, said China is also concerned about the Quad, especially as Biden is preparing to hold his first summit face-to-face with the leaders. of the union. “No matter how much China believes in it, they are concerned about institutionalizing the Quad,” he said.

Among the numerous conundrums in the relationship between the United States and China, one of the most serious is Taiwan, especially as China increases military flights to the air defense identification zone. of this island. Some U.S. military and civilian officials think China is getting closer to trying to take control of Taiwan, although other officials in the Biden administration have tried to defuse the narrative to avoid causing trouble. conflict.

Wang Chong, a foreign policy expert at Zhejiang University of International Studies, said China wants to defuse military tensions, especially over Taiwan. He said Wang and the Chinese negotiating team would use the meeting with Sherman to improve communications in an effort to ensure there was no “false fire”.

US officials declined to provide specific details about the meeting. But one official said that the veteran diplomat “will emphasize that we do not want this tough and sustained competition to turn into conflict”.

Additional Info from Sherry Fei Ju in Beijing

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