US official travels to China to have frank exchanges with FM Yi

F.P. Report

WASHINGTON DC: Senior Administration official of the State Department has said that Deputy Secretary Sherman is going to be traveling to Tianjin on Sunday for discussions with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng.

The deputy secretary’s travel to China follows a week of important engagements with allies and partners in Japan, we were in Seoul a little bit earlier, and right now we’re in Mongolia. The deputy secretary used her meetings there to underscore the United States commitment to standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and partners to address pressing global challenges, advance a free and open Indo-Pacific, and uphold and strengthen the rules-based international order.

We’ve said we are prepared to engage Chinese officials when we believe those engagements will be substantive and constructive. Those are the terms on which we agreed to this visit. So Deputy Secretary Sherman’s meetings are a continuation of the discussions we had in Anchorage in March around setting the terms for the relationship and achieving a steady state of affairs between our countries.

We believe it’s important to maintain open lines of communication between high-level officials. Frank and open discussion, even – perhaps especially – where we disagree, is critical to reducing the potential for misunderstandings between our countries, maintaining global peace and security, and making progress on important issues.

As Secretary Blinken has said, the U.S. relationship with China will be collaborative where it can be, competitive where it should be, and adversarial where it must be. And we expect all dimensions of the relationship will be on the table for discussion during Wendy’s meetings.

You know as well as I do she’s a seasoned diplomat. We’re going into these meetings with our eyes wide open. The deputy secretary is going to represent the U.S. interests and values and those of our allies and partners. We’re going to do it honestly and directly. In Tianjin, she’s going to make clear while we welcome stiff and sustained competition with the PRC, everyone needs to play by the same rules and on the level – on a level playing field.

She’s going to underscore that we do not want that stiff and sustained competition to veer into conflict. This is why the U.S. wants to ensure that there are guard rails and parameters in place to responsibly manage the relationship. While I’m not going to preview Wendy’s full agenda, I think you can anticipate that she will take the opportunity to explain our concerns about many of Beijing’s actions, including those on which we’ve taken recent steps, both on our own and in – excuse me – coordination with our allies and partners.

And at the same time, there are important global challenges where the U.S. and China both have an interest and where we think it’s important to exchange views and explore potential areas for cooperation. So we anticipate that this will also be a focus of these meetings.

During the press briefing, official said that let me just underscore a few points on why and how we are engaging Chinese officials in Tianjin. As we said in advance of our conversations in Anchorage and as we’ve discussed consistently, we think it’s important for us to say directly to Chinese officials in private what we say in public. It’s in our interests to be very clear to Beijing about where we stand and explain our concerns in detail.

The main purpose of this meeting is to have frank and honest exchanges about the relationship. The goal isn’t to negotiate over specifics, but rather keep the channels of communication open at a senior level, and our philosophy is that we should not avoid hard topics just to be polite because that will only allow problems to fester. As we’ve made clear in our actions and words, we believe it’s important to responsibly manage the relationship, as said, even and especially when the relationship is challenging.

So let me also put this meeting into the context of the administration’s broader China policy effort. Since President Biden took office, we’ve put a lot of focus on strengthening our own competitive hand vis-a-vis China through many actions that we’ve taken domestically, investing in ourselves at home. We’ve also rallied our allies and partners, including to advance an affirmative vision of the rules-based international order. And we’ve confronted China when they’ve acted against our interests and values while working to cooperate with China on areas like climate change and nonproliferation.

We know we’re stronger when we work with our allies. We know this makes us more effective when dealing with Beijing.

We aren’t seeking an anti-China coalition in our work with allies and partners, but rather trying to work together in a multilateral fashion to uphold the international rules-based order.

So when the deputy secretary sits down with her interlocutors, I anticipate very clearly that she will be not only representing the United States, but she will be standing up and advocating her positions that are shared around the world.

And across the three pillars of our approach to China policy – investing in ourselves at home, working with our allies and partners and through international institutions, and confronting China where we need to while cooperating where we can – we’re actively executing on our strategy to present that affirmative vision, demonstrate that democracies can and do best deliver results for our people and people around the world – a premise that President Biden is deeply invested in – and that we’re competing effectively with China. With all of those actions underway, we’re entering this engagement from a position of strength and of solidarity.

But this bilateral engagement is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to our China policy. We are doing many things at once. We have a multifaceted approach to a multifaceted relationship. We’re engaging at a senior level precisely because we are in a competitive relationship. We want to maintain open dialogue so that we are able to – so that we are being responsible and not letting the competition veer into an unintended conflict.

Even as we meet with our Chinese counterparts, we will also continue to hold China accountable. These things are not mutually exclusive, and it should be clear that we are not afraid to impose costs for China’s behavior that undermines international norms. We will do this simultaneously with our engagement. For example, as you’ve all seen in just the last few weeks, we’ve taken actions on Beijing’s efforts to erode democracy in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, its use of forced labor, and its malicious cyber activities.

Historically, people, I think, have had a binary assumption that either we’re in a period of engagement with China or we’re in a period of confrontation – essentially, that the relationship goes up and down. But that’s just not the case anymore. This is a continuation of the steady state of affairs and it’s in that context that we see this meeting occurring. So with that, I think we’re happy to take some questions.

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