BEIJING, July 26 – A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
Amid worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranked U.S. diplomat, arrived on Sunday for the face-to-face meetings in the northern city of Tianjin.
“The United States wants to reignite the sense of national purpose by establishing China as an ‘imaginary enemy’,” state television quoted Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng as saying in a report on Monday morning’s session, even as talks were underway.
The United States had mobilised its goverment and society to suppress China, he added.
“As if once China’s development is suppressed, U.S. domestic and external problems will be resolved, and America will be great again, and America’s hegemony can be continued.”
Sherman is set to meet State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi later on Monday.
Her China visit was added late to an Asian itinerary that included stops in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia amid wrangling over protocol between Beijing and Washington.
On Saturday, Wang had warned that China would not accept the United States taking a “superior” position in the relationship, a day after China unveiled sanctions on former U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.
Sherman’s expected position during the talks, as outlined by senior U.S. officials, would be that the United States welcomed competition with Beijing but would insist on a level playing field and “guardrails” to avoid conflicts.
The U.S. government and lawmakers have been critical of China’s policy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, with the U.S. Senate having passed a bill this month to ban imports from the far western region, citing forced labour concerns.
Last Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Sherman would be travelling to China “from a position of strength”.
On Monday, Xie told Chinese media that he presented a list of requests for the United States to “correct” its past actions on China, such as sanctions on officials.
Monday’s talks came amid frayed relations between Beijing and Washington that have worsened in the months since an initial diplomatic meeting in March in Anchorage, the first under U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
At the Alaska meeting, Chinese officials, including Wang, railed against the state of U.S. democracy, while U.S. officials accused the Chinese side of grandstanding.
Monday’s meeting was held amid stringent Chinese COVID-19 measures, which have meant that foreign officials have met Chinese counterparts outside Beijing, the capital.
Foreign media were kept at a distance from the site of the talks, but Chinese media were permitted on the premises.