US, China clash as Biden debuts at G7

US, China clash as Biden debuts at G7

FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing
The Chinese and US flags flutter in Beijing, China, Jan 21, 2021. (File photo: REUTERS/Tingshu Wang)

WASHINGTON: The United States and China clashed in rare talks on Friday (Jun 11) as President Joe Biden made his international debut at the Group of Seven (G7) summit, with his administration pressing Beijing on COVID-19, Taiwan and human rights.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, joining Biden at the summit of industrial democracies in England, spoke by telephone with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi - their first talks since a heated in-person encounter in Alaska in March.

As Biden used his first presidential trip abroad to unveil a massive plan to buy and distribute 500 million COVID-19 vaccine doses around the world, Blinken renewed US pressure on China over the origins of the pandemic that has killed more than 3.7 million people.

Blinken "stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus", including allowing World Health Organization (WHO) experts back into China, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Biden has ordered US intelligence to report back by late August whether COVID-19, first detected in late 2019 in the city of Wuhan, emerged from an animal source or a laboratory accident.

COMMENTARY: How COVID-19 lab-leak theory went from conspiracy theory to politically accepted possibility

Former president Donald Trump trotted out the lab-leak theory but was widely dismissed, with many believing he was seeking to deflect criticism over his own handling of the pandemic, but Biden has said there was a need for further study after criticising Beijing for not giving more access to a WHO probe.

The laboratory theory has outraged China, which has sought to rebrand itself in the world's eyes not as the country that failed to stop the virus but as a model on how to contain it.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as US President Joe Biden makes a speech on the Covid
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens as US President Joe Biden makes a speech on the COVID-19 in the Cornish town of St Ives ahead of the G7 Summit. (Photo: AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

"INTERESTS OF SMALL CIRCLES"

Yang, a senior Politburo member who has long taken a lead in Beijing's handling of the United States, renewed denunciations of Washington as Biden met with leaders from other G7 nations - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

"Genuine multilateralism is not pseudo-multilateralism based on the interests of small circles," Yang told Blinken, according to state television.

"The only genuine multilateralism is that founded on the principles of the charter of the United Nations and international law," Yang said.

Yang also renewed accusations of US hypocrisy on human rights as Blinken pressed on what the United States considers the genocide of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim Turkic people who are incarcerated in camps.

"The United States should resolve its own domestic serious human rights violations, and not use the so-called human rights issues as an excuse to arbitrarily interfere in the internal affairs of other countries," he said.

READ: 'Uyghur Tribunal' to convene over alleged abuses as China fumes

Yang made similar accusations about the United States in front of cameras during the meeting in Anchorage, taking aback US officials who expected brief, civil remarks but raising his star power inside China.

CONCERN ON TAIWAN

Blinken also voiced alarm at China's increasing pressure on Taiwan including military flights off its coast.

Blinken "called on Beijing to cease its pressure campaign against Taiwan and peacefully resolve cross-Strait issues", the State Department statement said.

Washington has been increasingly alarmed that China will attempt to use force on Taiwan, a self-governing democracy it considers part of its territory, after its sweeping curbs on freedoms in Hong Kong.

READ: China warns US against trade deal with Taiwan

The United States in recent days agreed to reopen trade talks with Taiwan and authorised a military plane to bring a delegation of senators who offered COVID-19 vaccines.

Amid wide bipartisan criticism of China, Biden has largely continued the hawkish stance of Trump, in substance if not in tone.

The Biden administration has described China as a preeminent international challenge and vowed to counter it by shoring up alliances and investing heavily in infrastructure and development at home.

Source: AFP/dv

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