The first face-t0-face meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials got off to a heated start Thursday. For more than an hour, top officials traded barbs at what would normally be a perfunctory press conference ahead of a two day meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.
The planned photo-op, meant to take just a few minutes at the start of the meeting, stretched on for over an hour as both sides attempted to get the final say. During the acrimonious exchange, both the Chinese and U.S. teams repeatedly called reporters into the room to add remarks, according to reporters present during the meeting.
The meeting included U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party.
At the top of the meeting, Blinken laid out American concerns with Chinese policy, according to NPR's China correspondent John Ruwitch. Blinken said China's recent actions against international allies pose a threat to "the rules based order that maintains global stability."
Blinken then criticized China for human rights issues in Hong Kong, where the mainland has jailed pro-democracy advocates, and in the country's far-western Xinjiang region. The nation's minority Muslim population is facing wide-scale repression there. U.S. officials have previously called China's actions against the Uighurs there a "genocide."
The conference Thursday followed meetings in Asia last week in which U.S. officials met with Japanese and South Korean officials. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called out China's actions against U.S. allies during that trip as well.
China resisted commenting on Blinken's messages during that trip, but laid into Blinken following their opening remarks Thursday.
Yang, China's top foreign policy official, said the U.S. should focus on its own issues instead of using its military and economic might to suppress other countries.
He went on to say the U.S. has its own human rights issues, pointing to recent civil rights protests. He said the grievances voiced by movements such as Black Lives Matter are deep-seated and are not a recent phenomena.
Despite the tense exchange, Chinese and U.S. officials still have hours to go in their meeting. A senior administration official told NPR's diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen that U.S. officials will use the remaining hours of the meeting to double down on their messaging.