TOKYO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday (Mar 17) that China was acting aggressively and repressively, citing its actions in the East and South China Seas where it has territorial disputes with Japan and other Asian nations.
Speaking to a roundtable of Japanese journalists in Tokyo, Blinken said Beijing was “raising tensions not diminishing them” in the region by its maritime actions and posturing over Taiwan.
Blinken is visiting Japan and South Korea along with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a bid to fortify Washington’s alliances in Asia, in a first overseas trip by top level members of President Joe Biden’s administration.
China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino-US relationship and are an important security concern for Japan.
Blinken said Beijing was “acting both more repressively at home and more aggressively abroad, including in the East China Sea, including with regard to the Senkakus, as well the South China sea and also with regard to Taiwan”.
The Senkakus, also referred to as Diaoyu in China, are islets in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but claimed by China.
“Japan has real interest in what happens with regard to Taiwan and Taiwan’s straits and we spent some time comparing notes on that,” said Blinken describing his Tuesday talks with Japanese officials.
The comments echoed statements issued by Blinken, Austin and their Japanese counterparts after “2+2” talks held in Tokyo on Tuesday and come ahead of Blinken’s first in-person meetings with Chinese counterparts planned for later this week in Alaska.
“We look forward to the opportunity to lay out in very clear terms to our Chinese counterparts some of the concerns that we have about the actions they’re taking,” said Blinken.
FIRST HIGH-LEVEL US-CHINA TALKS
Separately, two US officials said President Biden’s administration intends to show its firmness against Beijing in Alaska on Thursday, but does not expect immediate results.
Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan are set to have “an initial discussion to understand … our interests, intentions and priorities” with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, a senior US official told reporters on Tuesday.
“Sometimes there is sense, potentially a perception, or maybe it’s a hope in Beijing, that our public message is somehow different than our private message. And we think it’s really important that we dispel that idea very early,” the official said.
The American diplomats will therefore be as firm in the closed-door meetings as they have in recent public statements, including on “deep concerns” about the treatment of the Uighur minority in Xinjiang, a crackdown in Hong Kong, Chinese “economic coercion” and Beijing’s “increasingly aggressive” stance towards Taiwan, the official added.
US relations with China have plunged in recent years, and the Alaska talks will be the first between the powers since Yang met Blinken’s hawkish predecessor Mike Pompeo last June in Hawaii – a setting similarly far from the high-stakes glare of national capitals.
The Biden administration has generally backed the tougher approach to China initiated by former president Donald Trump, but has also insisted that it can be more effective by shoring up alliances and seeking narrow ways to cooperate on priorities such as climate change.
Another senior US official said Beijing “has been talking about its desire to change the tone of the relationship”.
But Washington will be weighing “deeds not words on that front”, that official added, keeping in mind China’s “pretty poor track record of keeping its promises”.
The Biden administration said it does not want to enter into detailed negotiations at this stage and therefore does not expect any immediate announcements. There will be no joint statement at the end of the meeting in Anchorage.
Following the morning roundtable with emerging Japanese reporters, Blinken and Austin were set to leave for Seoul to hold “2+2” talks with South Korean counterparts until Thursday.