In mid-March 2021, the first meeting of senior United States officials with their Chinese counterparts since President Joe Biden took office was held in the US state of Alaska. The meetings resulted in the two sides agreeing to hold a virtual summit in April between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss climate change, but no "minimum" agreement was reached on any other issues, nor even a major declaration. Placed alongside clashes between the two sides that took place during the meetings, this points to how tense and turbulent relations between the two sides have become. The most significant developments in US-China relations in light of the recent bilateral meetings in Alaska can be discussed as follows:
1- Talks in a new era of tension and caution: The Alaska meetings came against the backdrop of a new era in the United States under President Joe Biden, who began his term with a set of moves signaling "further escalation" with China. Kurt Campbell, a man known for his hardline and firm stance on China’s rise, was appointed the White House coordinator for relations with China.
Then came Biden’s participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogues between the US, India, Japan, and Australia—countries that share a common concern about China’s threats and expansionist desires in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. That meeting was followed by visits to South Korea and Japan by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense General Lloyd Austin.
But the most significant move was the US administration’s release, in March, of the Interim National Security Strategic Guidance document, which included the new administration’s directions to the National Security Agency (NSA) on facing global challenges. China was mentioned in the document 15 times. The document noted the need for the US to be alert to the dangers of China, especially as it is the "only competitor" capable of combining economic, diplomatic, military, and technical power, as well as challenging an open and stable international order.
2- American concern over some shared issues: In the meetings, the US expressed, by way of its Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, its concern over Beijing’s behavior towards Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, as well as in cyberspace. Washington also affirmed its readiness to hold talks with Beijing on a number of issues, including North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, human rights in China, and the intersecting interests of both countries on Iran and North Korea, despite the presence of severe disagreements between the two sides.
3- Chinese affirmation of the priority of bilateral dialogue: The China, represented in the meetings by Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Foreign Affairs Director for the Chinese Communist Party Yang Jiechi, stressed that China is determined to preserve its security, sovereignty, and interests, and that the country’s growth and development are not restrained. "We hope the US will not underestimate China’s determination to defend its territory, to safeguard its people, and to defend its interests," said Wang Yi. The Chinese side also indicated the hope the two countries could "meet each other halfway," and that the door of dialogue between the two sides would always be open.
4- A firm US approach towards Beijing: The new US administration’s approach to China, from coming into power until the present, indicates that this administration will continue "firm" policies towards China. One of the pillars of the US’s composite approach to dealing with Beijing is introducing and employing the issue of human rights, as well as China’s geopolitical aspirations and ambitions and its threat to global stability, especially in the Indo-Pacific region.
There are also threats tied to China’s growing rise in the field of artificial intelligence and the cyber and technical fields, and, naturally, the economic war between the two countries. In this context, it appears the US will tend to rely more upon allies whose positions intersect on "the Chinese threat."
5- China continues its economic and development policies: It appears that, even before the Biden administration took office, the Chinese administration began to implement its vision for dealing with the next phase. It did so by stressing its refusal of "interference" in its internal affairs by Washington. It stressed it would continue its economic and developmental ascent, and that it was unwilling to enter a "confrontation or conflict" with the US.
Indeed, China preempted Biden’s arrival in power with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement signed between China and 14 countries from the Asia-Indian Ocean region on 15 November 2020. This put the US up against the largest trading bloc, representing 30% of the world economy, a development that bore signals confirmed by Chinese statements in the Alaska meetings that insistence on continuing a global rise is China’s inherent and fundamental right.
In conclusion, the new US administration’s approach to China, from coming into power until the present, suggests that this administration will continue its escalatory policies towards China because of its reservations about Beijing’s behavior. It is unlikely that China will bow to the US side, especially with Beijing’s recent move to create a global economic bloc hostile to Washington, meaning both sides will be keen on mutual escalation.