Blinken and President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will meet China’s most senior foreign policy official, Yang Jiechi, and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi next Thursday in Anchorage.
“This is an important opportunity for us to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns we have,” Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “We’ll also explore whether there are avenues for cooperation, and we’ll talk about the competition we have with China to make sure that the United States has a level playing field and that our companies and workers benefit from that.”
The Biden administration wants to secure concessions with China on a range of issues related to trade, intellectual property rights, cybersecurity and climate issues.
But it also has not shied from accusing the country of genocide for its campaign of mass detention and sterilization of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
On Wednesday, Blinken repeated that “I see it as a genocide” when asked about the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and said “we will continue to speak out forcefully and shine a light on these egregious violations of human rights.”
Shortly after Blinken was sworn in, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed exasperation at his genocide claims in unusually forceful terms.
“China has no genocide; China has no genocide; China has no genocide, period,” spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in January, saying “the most important thing should be repeated three times.”
It’s unclear whether Washington and Beijing will be able to compartmentalize their wide disagreements over human rights and democracy and work cooperatively on other global issues.
Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania expressed concern about what the Biden administration might offer Beijing to secure its commitment to reduce carbon emissions.
China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, is widely viewed as critical to grappling with the climate change crisis. The country’s climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, has begun conversations with his U.S. counterpart, former secretary of state John F. Kerry.
When asked whether Blinken would make concessions to China to secure its cooperation on climate issues, Blinken flatly said “no.”
Given the array of differences between the world’s two largest economies, Blinken appeared to lower expectations for what may be achieved at the meeting.
“This is not a strategic dialogue. There’s no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements,” Blinken said. “Those engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the issues of concern to us with China.”
Blinken will fly to Alaska from Seoul following his meetings with Washington’s principal Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.
Lawmakers also probed Blinken on other issues, including the surge of violence against people in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. For the first time, Blinken said that the United States has seen acts of ethnic cleansing carried out in Tigray and that Eritrean forces must withdraw from the area.
“We need to get an independent investigation into what took place there, and we need some kind of process, a reconciliation process so that the country can move forward,” Blinken said.
Lawmakers also expressed concern about the U.S. border, which is facing a dramatic uptick in unaccompanied minors. When asked whether the border is safe, Blinken deferred to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
“The border is a constant work in progress,” he said.
Lawmakers also asked whether the United States would sanction additional companies involved in the construction of Russia and Germany’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline. U.S. officials worry that the project, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany, increases Moscow’s leverage over Europe.
Blinken reiterated that he believed the pipeline was a “bad idea” and said “we continue to review other possibilities for sanctions going forward.”