March 2, 2021

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U.S. and China top diplomats talk tough on Myanmar and Taiwan in tense first call since Biden took office

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden to the State Department in Washington, February 4, 2021.

Tom Brenner | Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called for China to condemn the military coup in Myanmar and warned Beijing that Washington will work with its allies to hold the People’s Republic accountable for what he described as its efforts to threaten international stability particularly in the Taiwan Strait.

Blinken spoke with his counterpart Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi late Friday in the first conversation between senior U.S. and Chinese officials since President Joe Biden took office. The top U.S. diplomat stressed human rights in the call, while Yang called for Washington to respect China’s sovereignty.

“Secretary Blinken stressed the United States will continue to stand up for human rights and democratic values, including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and pressed China to join the international community in condemning the military coup in Burma,” White House spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. Myanmar is also referred to as Burma.

The contentious call between the top diplomats in Washington and Beijing shows that relations are unlikely to improve between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration. Yang told the U.S. not to interfere with China’s internal affairs in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. Yang warned Blinken any attempt to slander China would be unsuccessful.

Tensions between the U.S. and China reached a boiling point under the Trump administration. Though President Joe Biden is reviewing a number of Trump-era foreign policy decisions, he is unlikely to reverse most of the previous administration’s policies on China. Biden has already said he will not immediately remove hundreds of billions of dollars in tariffs imposed by Trump against Chinese exports, as the new administration also seeks to take a tough approach on trade.

The day before Biden was inaugurated, the Trump administration labelled the repression of Uighur Muslims in China’s western Xinjiang province as genocide and crimes against humanity. As soon as Trump left office, Beijing imposed sanctions against former administration officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and trade advisor Peter Navarro.

Women wearing red ribbons hold candles during a night protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 5, 2021.

Reuters

The Biden administration will uphold the genocide designation, Biden’s nominee for U.N. ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said during her confirmation hearing. Biden had condemned China’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide during his presidential campaign.

The White House already faces its first major international flashpoint with China after the military in Myanmar overthrew and detained the country’s civilian leadership earlier this month.

The U.S. has warned it will take action against those responsible for the coup if they do not release the detained civilian leadership and uphold the country’s democratic transition. China, for its part, has avoided condemning the coup, calling instead for a resolution of the crisis under the country’s constitution.

Tensions are also growing over Taiwan. Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan, which has self rule under the umbrella of U.S. security guarantees. Days after Biden’s inauguration, China sent warplanes into the Taiwan Strait, drawing condemnation from Washington. On Thursday, a U.S. Navy warship sailed through the strait for the first time since Biden took office.

“The Secretary reaffirmed that the United States will work together with its allies and partners in defense of our shared values and interests to hold the PRC accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan Strait, and its undermining of the rules-based international system,” State Department spokesman Price said of Blinken’s Friday call.

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