China accused the US of “slaughtering” black people and said Americans have “little faith” in democracy during ill-tempered talks.
The two nations met face-to-face in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday evening for the first time since President Joe Biden took office.
But any hopes that bilateral relations could be reset after years of trade wars and tensions over cyber security during Donald Trump’s presidency were quickly stamped out.
US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, opening the meeting by referring to concerns over Beijing’s human rights record.
China’s top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi, thunderously responded by accusing the US of its own human rights violations.
“We hope that United States will do better on human rights,” Yang said during a 15-minute speech. “The fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself.”
Yang added that human rights issues within the US, such as racism, were “deep-seated … they did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter.”
The strong rebuke came in response to Blinken warning of a “much more violent world” if Chinese activities continue to “threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability.”
Blinken added that the US has “deep concerns” about some of China’s political moves, including Beijing’s attempts to restrict democracy in Hong Kong.
“That’s why they’re not merely internal matters, and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues today,” he said.
Blinken also publicly accused China of “cyber attacks on the United States, [and] economic coercion of our allies” during the meeting.
Yang responded by lashing out at US officials for encouraging other countries to “attack china” and warned of “firm actions” if the US continues to “interfere with China’s internal affairs.”
“It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China,” he said.
Yang also claimed that human rights were at a low point in the US, with black Americans being “slaughtered” – a seeming reference to the high-profile killings of the likes of George Floyd.
“We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world,” he continued. “Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States.
“China will not accept unwarranted accusations from the US side,” Yang continued, adding recent developments had decimated relations ‘into a period of unprecedented difficulty’ that ‘has damaged the interests of our two peoples.’
‘There is no way to strangle China,’ he added.
Sullivan hit back, saying Washington did not seek a conflict with China, but added: “We will always stand up for our principles for our people, and for our friends.”
Afterwards, Zhao Lijian, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, told a press briefing in Beijing that China had not intended for the talks to take a “confrontational” turn, but said the US provoked the ill-tempered scenes by making a series of “groundless attacks”.
“It was the US side that … provoked the dispute in the first place, so the two sides had a strong smell of gunpowder and drama from the beginning in the opening remarks. It was not the original intention of the Chinese side,” Zhao said.
The meeting in Anchorage was the first high-level discussion between the US and China since June last year, while Trump was still in power.
In the hours since, the discord has continued, with the US accusing China of “grandstanding” and violating the agreed protocol during the meeting.
China, meanwhile, has accused the US officials of being “condescending” in the talks, for speaking too long and being “inhospitable”.
The US state department said China “seem[ed] to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance.
“America’s approach will be undergirded by confidence in our dealing with Beijing, which we are doing from a position of strength even as we have the humility to know that we are a country eternally striving to become a more perfect union.”
Relations between the US and China have been strained for years, and the Biden administration has not yet signalled whether it will be walking back the hard-line stances taken under Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, a day before the meeting, Blinken had announced new sanctions over China’s crackdown on pro-Democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
In retort, China increased its rhetoric opposing US interference in domestic affairs.
“Is this a decision made by the United States to try to gain some advantage in dealing with China?” State Councillor Wang Yi asked.
“Certainly this is miscalculated and only reflects the vulnerability and weakness inside the United States and it will not shake China’s position or resolve on those issues.”