CHina’s deputy foreign minister, Xie Feng, read out to his American interlocutor the catalog of demands with which his boss had already traveled to Alaska in March. The United States must lift all sanctions against Chinese officials, withdraw the extradition request against Huawei manager Meng Wanzhou, allow China’s Confucius Institutes and state media in the United States to operate freely, and lift visa restrictions on members of the Communist Party and against students of certain disciplines. These are the prerequisites for a normalization of relations with America, said Xie Feng after a meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in the Chinese port city of Tianjin.
Admittedly, nobody expected that at the end of Sherman’s trip to China there would be concrete results. The State Department had stated that the aim of the meeting was to “keep communication channels open at a high level”. The talks are important to “reduce the risk of misunderstandings” and to set up “protective rails” so that competition with China does not drift into conflict, a senior State Department employee said in advance. So expectations weren’t high when Sherman landed in Tianjin on Sunday. Her interlocutors invited her there because no political delegations are currently being received in the Chinese capital due to the pandemic.
Sherman is only the second high-ranking representative of President Joe Biden’s government to travel to China, after Special Envoy to Climate Change John Kerry. At best, your visit is an intermediate step to Biden’s first meeting with China’s head of state Xi Jinping. In Beijing, the G-20 summit in Italy at the end of October is mentioned as a possible date.
After Xie Feng, Sherman met Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. He had already announced in advance that he wanted to teach America a lesson. “If the United States has not yet learned to deal with other countries on an equal footing, then it is our job to give the United States a seminar on this.” Wang Yi could not afford any kind words because China’s most senior foreign politician, Yang Jiechi set the tone in Alaska in March. At that time he gave a 16-minute lecture to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
Biden increases pressure on China
After that, Wang Yi couldn’t go back. Otherwise he would have been accused of being a sissy in his own country. Since Sherman is only Deputy Foreign Minister, he left further external communications to his fifth deputy, Xie Feng. He accused the United States of demonizing his country. “Some Americans” would turn China into an “imagined enemy” in order to cover up problems and differences in their own country, Xie said, according to a statement from the State Department. That is why the relationship between China and the United States is at an impasse.
At the same time, Xie Feng also signaled that Beijing wanted to prevent an uncontrolled escalation in relations. A stable relationship is in the interests of both sides, and China wants to work with the US, he said. From Beijing’s point of view, the talks were also about paving the way for an early meeting between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden. This would enable the Chinese president to underline his carefully cultivated reputation as a statesman domestically.
Sherman wrote on Twitter that she spoke to Xie Feng about “the climate crisis, Covid-19 and our grave concerns about China’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and both sides of the Taiwan Strait.” She emphasized the US commitment to healthy competition to Wang Yi.
Before they landed, Sherman had endeavored to make the visit a little friendlier by offering the United States’ condolences to the families of the victims of the Henan flood. More than 60 people were killed in the heavy weather event. However, the gesture was devalued by the fact that the State Department incorrectly stated the name of the affected province as Hunan twice at a press conference.
Since his inauguration, President Biden has endeavored to increase pressure on China through concerted action with allies. Beijing is particularly concerned that NATO has recently made several comments on China. Beijing is also closely monitoring the cooperation between the USA, India, Japan and Australia in the so-called quad format. The leadership is angry that Biden, unwavering by Chinese threats, has stepped up cooperation with Taiwan and, like his predecessor Donald Trump, makes extensive use of sanctions. Beijing expressed its displeasure by announcing sanctions against American politicians and organizations shortly before Sherman’s visit.