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Officials From The U.S. And China Have Met For The First Time Since Biden Took Office

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have wrapped up a day and a half of meetings with Chinese officials in Anchorage, Ala. U.S.-China relations have been frosty for months, and the meetings got off to a pretty tense start yesterday, with the two sides trading barbs on a range of issues. NPR China correspondent John Roberts joins us now with more.

Hey, John.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: Hi. So, all right, you and I talked last night about how these meetings did start off pretty tensely. How did they end?

RUWITCH: Well, things appear to have settled down behind closed doors. After the meeting, Secretary of State Blinken came out and said that China had a defensive reaction right when they raised these issues that they're at odds over - Xinjiang, Hong Kong, cybersecurity. And that was expected. But he said they were able to have very candid talks on what he called an expansive agenda. And it included Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan economics. Here's Blinken speaking to the media right after the meeting, basically proclaiming it a success.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: First, we wanted to share with them the significant concerns that we have about a number of the actions that China has taken and the behavior it's exhibiting, concerns shared by our allies and partners. And we did that. We also wanted to lay out very clearly our own policies, priorities and worldview. And we did that, too.

RUWITCH: And after he spoke, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that the U.S. would continue to work with China through normal diplomatic channels.

CHANG: OK. And what is the Chinese delegation - How are they characterizing these meetings?

RUWITCH: Yang Jiechi, who's the top foreign policy official in China, really came out swinging yesterday. There's no doubt about it. I mean, tough nationalistic rhetoric like that plays pretty well at home. You know, that said, reports in Chinese state media about the meeting were pretty measured. They did not play up the friction. And that's potentially a positive sign. Also interspersed with the tough rhetoric yesterday, there were calls to manage the differences appropriately and work together, which China has consistently said. And after the meeting, Yang said that the talks were candid, constructive and beneficial, according to state TV.

CHANG: Well, one thing we've heard a lot lately is that the U.S. wants to work closely with allies and partners to pressure China to change in certain ways. What do you think U.S. allies, especially like Japan and South Korea, what do you think they think of that?

RUWITCH: Yeah, I put that question to Taylor Fravel, who's a China and international relations expert at MIT. And here's what he said.

TAYLOR FRAVEL: On the one hand, I might view it as positive because the U.S. is airing concerns that I, as the ally or partner, share. On the other hand, I might be concerned that this is the sign of a relationship that's going to sort of accelerate in terms of its decline.

RUWITCH: He says what's tricky is that there's a lot of countries out there that would welcome more U.S. support but don't really want worse relations with China. I think we saw a bit of that before this meeting. Secretary Blinken was in Japan and South Korea, as you say, two U.S. allies. Japan was openly critical of China. And there was hardly a peep out of South Korea when it came to China. So that's going to be one of Washington's big challenges, and it's one Beijing's taking careful note of.

CHANG: That is NPR China correspondent John Ruwitch reporting from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thank you, John.

RUWITCH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.