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After High-Level Meeting, China Urges US to 'Correct' Itself

FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang speaks during the forum in Shanghai, on April 21, 2023.
FILE - Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang speaks during the forum in Shanghai, on April 21, 2023.

After meeting in Beijing with U.S. Ambassador Nicholas Burns, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang criticized the U.S. for what he described as an ongoing effort to "suppress" his country, saying that improved communications between the two superpowers will depend on the U.S. changing its policies.

In a readout of the Monday meeting, Qin said that U.S.-China relations have worsened since a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in November, saying "a series of erroneous words and deeds by the U.S. since then have undermined the hard-won positive momentum of Sino-U.S. relations."

Qin described relations between the two countries as having "hit the ice," and he criticized U.S. policy toward Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its own.

Burns, for his part, was more reticent about the talks, posting a brief update on his official Twitter account that said, "I met State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang today. We discussed challenges in the U.S.-China relationship and the necessity of stabilizing ties and expanding high-level communication."

Possible thaw

Despite the tone of Qin's comments, some viewed the meeting, one of the first high-level meetings between American and Chinese officials in several months, as a positive step.

Relations have been particularly strained since early February, when the U.S. spotted a Chinese espionage balloon flying over the U.S. mainland. That incident caused U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to cancel what had been expected to be an in-person visit with Qin earlier this year.

Last week, Burns seemed to signal an interest in greater dialogue between the two countries.

"Our view is we need better channels between the two governments and deeper channels, and we are ready to talk," he said last week in a virtual appearance at an event hosted by the Stimson Center, a Washington-based think tank.

"We've never been shy of talking, and we hope the Chinese will meet us halfway on this," Burns said.

Critical comments

The Foreign Ministry's readout of the meeting depicted Qin as sharply critical of the U.S., urging Washington to "correct its understanding of China" and to "return to rationality."

Appearing to refer to Burns' comments about being willing to talk, Qin said, "It is not possible to talk about communication on the one hand, but to keep suppressing and containing China on the other hand. You cannot say one thing and do another. We must respect China's bottom line and red line, and stop undermining China's sovereignty, security, and development interests."

He added, "In particular, we must correctly handle the Taiwan issue, stop hollowing out the one-China principle, and stop supporting and condoning 'Taiwan independence' separatist forces."

In what appeared to be a reference to the espionage balloon incident, Qin said, "It is necessary to persist in handling unexpected incidents in the relationship between the two countries in a calm, professional and pragmatic manner, so as to avoid another impact on Sino-U.S. relations."

He said any future talks should be based on "mutual respect, reciprocity and mutual benefit."

State Department reacts

In a press conference Monday afternoon, Deputy State Department Spokesperson Vedant Patel commented on the meeting, saying, "Maintaining open lines of communication with the PRC [People's Republic of China] has been a key tenet of our approach as it relates to this very complicated bilateral relationship."

Asked whether the U.S. had anything to "correct" in its position on Taiwan, Patel said it did not.

"There has been no change to our policy with China. There has been no change to our 'One China' policy, which is guided by more than four decades of the Taiwan Relations Act, the three joint communiqués and the six assurances. We have been very clear-eyed about that. And we're also going to continue standing with our friends and allies across the Indo-Pacific to advance our shared prosperity and security and values."

Room for progress

Zuri Linetsky, a research fellow with the Eurasia Group Foundation, told VOA that he saw the dialogue between Qin and Burns as a positive sign, and said that the language in the Chinese Foreign Ministry's readout was clear about the policy changes Beijing wants the U.S. to make, in particular toward Taiwan and trade.

"One thing that stands out to me is this discussion of 'security and development interests' which is, I think, a call out to the restrictions on Chinese access to semiconductors," Linetsky said.

The Biden administration has pressured countries that use U.S. technology to make semiconductors and the machines that fabricate them to restrict sales to China. Though the U.S. has branded this as a very narrow ban, applying only to military technology or items that could be repurposed for military use, the Chinese appear to view the ban as part of a broader strategy to restrict the country's overall development.

Linetsky said that the meeting between Qin and Burns appeared to signal that more talks might be on the horizon, though he warned that it would be a mistake to expect progress to be smooth.

"This isn't going to happen in a straight line," he said. "It's going to happen in fits and starts."

Coming investment guidance

As soon as next week, the Biden administration is expected to release new guidelines that will restrict the investments U.S. firms can make in China, to prevent technology that can be used for military purposes from being transferred to Beijing.

The policy will be part of a broader administration plan to insulate the U.S. from China without fully breaking ties, a process that White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan in a recent speech referred to as "de-risking" rather than the more commonly used term "decoupling."

"De-risking fundamentally means having resilient, effective supply chains and ensuring we cannot be subject to the coercion of any other country," he said in remarks delivered at the Brookings Institution on April 27.

In that same speech, Sullivan pushed back against Chinese claims that the U.S. was trying to freeze China out of new technologies and to hinder its overall development.

"These are tailored measures," Sullivan said. "They are not, as Beijing says, a technology blockade. They are not targeting emerging economies."

VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching contributed to this article.