US and Chinese officials are expected to state their respective “red lines” in a highly anticipated bilateral meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, on Thursday, declarations that could set the tone for bilateral relations under the Biden administration.
Both sides are posturing tough before the meeting. On Wednesday, the US State Department announced a new sanctions list against 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials, marking a continuation of the outgoing Trump administration’s use of punitive measures against Beijing’s perceived abusive political and commercial behaviors.
The US sanctions announcement said that the targeted Chinese and Hong Kong officials “were materially contributing to, have materially contributed to, or attempt to materially contribute to China’s failure to meet its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration or the Basic Law.”
Wang Chen, a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC)’s elite 25-person politburo and the ranking vice-chairperson of the standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), and You Quan, head of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department and vice-chairman of the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, top the new targeted sanctions list.
Thirteen vice-chairpersons of the NPC standing committee and nine other Chinese and Hong Kong officials were sanctioned for implementing the National Security Law in the special administrative region.
“The release of an update to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act report underscores our deep concern with the NPC March 11 decision to unilaterally undermine Hong Kong’s electoral system,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“This action further undermines the high degree of autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong and denies Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance, a move that the United Kingdom has declared to be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
“Foreign financial institutions that knowingly conduct significant transactions with the individuals listed in today’s report are now subject to sanctions,” said Blinken, who will meet his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Alaska this week.
The State Department is obliged to identify any officials involved in eroding Hong Kong’s freedoms according to the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, which was signed into law by the then US President Donald Trump last July.
The US has said it would raise a range of sensitive topics, including issues related to Hong Kong and Taiwan, at the Alaska meeting.
“We believe it’s an opportunity to talk about the relationship as one that is through competition, not conflict. Certainly there will be issues raised,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a media briefing on Wednesday.
“We expect there are parts of the conversation that could be difficult. There are issues that the President has not held back on voicing concerns about, whether it’s human rights, whether it’s economic or technology issues.”
Over the past few days, some US officials have anonymously told Western media that they had no “unrealistic expectations” for the Alaska meeting, which is aimed to help both sides understand the other side’s positions rather than achieve any substantive breakthroughs. No major announcements or a bilateral statement is expected to come out of the meeting, according to those reports.
Last Friday, Blinken said in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he was absolutely committed to the suggestions made by Representative Young Kim, who said Taiwan had served for decades as an “invaluable security and global health partner to the US” and should have a seat in the World Health Organization.
Commenting on the self-governing island’s performance in the pandemic battle, Blinken said Taiwan is “a country that can contribute to the world, not just its own people.” Observers noted it was the first time in decades that a top US official had referred to Taiwan as a “country.” China considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be unincorporated to the mainland.
The Chinese government and its official media have so far been mostly muted about Blinken’s speech on Taiwan. However, a blog article criticizing the US was allowed to be circulated among Chinese websites on Monday. The article said Blinken crossed Beijing’s “one China” red lines by referring to Taiwan as a country.
“Some netizens say Biden and Blinken are more cunning, insidious, treacherous and difficult to handle than Trump and Pompeo,” said the article. “Facing the US’s hypocrisy… we should not maintain any illusion about the US. We should not wait for mercy from an enemy or the Taiwan independence to self-vanish. We should not let go of the chance to reunify Taiwan again and again.”
The article said that although China would definitely win by using force to reunify Taiwan, it should think deeply and wait for the best timing. It said it’s time for China to increase its investment in military technology and launch more advanced equipments.
Beijing has gotten used to the situation whereby the US and its allies challenged China’s bottom lines every day, Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, said in his YouTube channel.
China clearly understands the whole game plan of the US. At the end of the day, there is not any real threat that can hurt China,” Hu said, adding that China would become stronger under foreign challenges.
He said some countries might have underestimated the costs they will have to pay for allying with the US.
Lai Yueh-chien, a political commentator at the China Times, a pro-Beijing Taiwanese news outlet, said the US planned to form an Asian alliance similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but it did not want to spend a lot of money.
Lai said the US had failed to contain Russia with NATO and would probably be unable to do any harm to China with an “Asian NATO,” which refers to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, Japan, Australia and India.
Lai added that China remained the largest trade partner of Japan and India while Australia was comparatively weak with its small army and population.
Yau Ching-yuen, a political commentator in Hong Kong, said as the technology war was the main battlefield between the two superpowers, the US would not allow China to take control of Taiwan, which is currently the world’s largest exporter of semiconductors.
Taiwan-based political commentator Huang Chuang-shia said the US had recently formed stronger ties with its Asian allies and would state clearly its red lines in its coming meeting with China.
Huang expected that the US would tell Beijing not to think about invading Taiwan, punishing the island economically or hacking its computing facilities.