In an effort to maintain an increasingly strained relationship, the Biden government has developed a strategy to confront China on disputes while leaving the door open to cooperation against global threats.

On Monday, China appeared to slam the door on the idea that the two countries could work together in one day and clash the next.

Talks with Assistant Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman – the highest-ranking government official to visit China – began with a spate of public criticism from the Chinese side and ended with little evidence that the two powers were closer to narrowing their differences.

“The relationship between the United States and the PRC is complex, so our policies are very complex,” Sherman said in a telephone interview following the meetings on the People’s Republic of China. “We believe our relationship can tolerate this nuance.”

The meetings, held in northeast China’s Tianjin city, covered the range of disputes between the two countries, she said. Many of them are bitter and defy a simple solution.

These included human rights, the rapid curtailment of political freedoms in Hong Kong, and what Ms. Sherman called “the horrific acts in Xinjiang,” the largely Muslim region of western China where hundreds of thousands of detention and re-education centers passed.

Ms. Sherman also raised China’s demands over Taiwan, its military operations in the South China Sea, and allegations by the United States and other nations last week that China’s Department of State Security was behind the hacking of Microsoft email systems and possibly other cyber attacks.

“This is very serious – that the Department of State Security would help criminals hack Microsoft and possibly others,” she said, adding that many countries had joined the United States, saying that “such behavior is absolutely irresponsible, reckless and totally irresponsible is out of place ”. in our world. “

China gave no reason, at least publicly, saying that the United States had no right to lecture the Chinese government or anyone else. Before Ms. Sherman finished their meetings, the State Department released a series of six harsh statements from the first official she met, Xie Feng, the assistant secretary of state overseeing relations with the United States.

Mr Xie accused the United States of committing Native American genocide and botching the response to the coronavirus pandemic that killed 620,000 Americans.

The Biden government’s policy is nothing more than a “thinly veiled attempt to contain and suppress China,” Xie told Ms. Sherman, according to a summary of his comments the Chinese State Department sent reporters on Monday before the Americans could show up provide your own account.

“It appears that a nationwide and societal campaign is being waged to bring China down,” Xie told Ms. Sherman, according to the summaries of his comments, which were also posted on the ministry’s overseas website.


July 26, 2021, 9:15 a.m. ET

Ms. Sherman’s meetings provided the latest measure of how the Biden administration’s strategy is working. At least so far, it has done little to mitigate China’s behavior. Mr. Xie’s remarks underscored the anger that has been building in China towards the United States and undermines the chances that the approach will gain ground.

After a second meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Ms. Sherman pointed out that the two sides had discussed global and regional issues on which the two governments could potentially work together, including North Korea and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, she warned of concrete progress, adding that she did not come to the talks with immediate results.

“We were pretty straight forward with each other in the areas of big differences,” she said.

“In areas where we have common interests and there are major global interests, we have had very substantial discussions and exchanged some ideas,” said Sherman. “We’ll have to see where this leads.”

Drew Thompson, a former director of China for the US Department of Defense, said the underlying intent behind Ms. Sherman’s visit appears to be to ensure that the worsening of differences does not lead to dangerous stalemates.

“Beijing is taking a maximalist approach to US-China relations, issuing lists of demands, insisting that Washington adopt reverse policies and actions,” said Thompson, now a researcher at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy the National University is from Singapore.

“The main goal for Washington is to deepen understanding of China’s positions, reduce the potential for misjudgment and avoid misjudgment that could lead to open conflict,” he said.

The tone on Monday reflected the opening of high-level talks between senior Chinese and Biden government officials in March when Beijing’s senior foreign policy leader Yang Jiechi gave a 16-minute talk accusing Americans of arrogance and hypocrisy. The controversial start with the Biden administration caught officials in China by surprise, who thought relations hit rock bottom in the last year of the Trump presidency and therefore could only get better with the new president.

Mr. Xie told the Chinese news media after meeting that he had forwarded two requests to Ms. Sherman, including lifting the visa restrictions on Communist Party members, lifting sanctions against Chinese officials and shutting down major Chinese news agencies in the United States as foreign agents. All of these were introduced during Donald J. Trump’s presidency, but President Biden did nothing to repeal any of them.

While Mr Biden has largely avoided it the heated ideological sparring with the Chinese Communist Party that the Trump administration led in its final year, relations remain strained.

Washington has sought allies to pressure Beijing on many of these issues. Ms. Sherman’s trip also took her to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia to rebuild regional ties that were strained under Mr. Trump.

And the Chinese government has resented calls by the United States, the World Health Organization and others for a new investigation into whether the coronavirus might have hatched from a laboratory in China and set off the pandemic.

Last week, Chinese officials said they were “extremely shocked” at a WHO proposal to reconsider laboratory leak theory. A report in March of a first WHO investigation said it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus jumped into the wider population after escaping from a laboratory.

Ms. Sherman said she has urged China to cooperate in the international investigation into the spread of Covid. “I’ll let them speak for themselves,” she said, “but from my point of view I certainly didn’t get the answer I wanted or hoped for.”

China’s belligerent tone seems to flow from above. The country’s head of state, Xi Jinping, has signaled a growing impatience with criticism and demands from Washington, particularly with regard to Beijing’s internal problems such as Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Beijing has fought against sanctions against Hong Kong and Xinjiang with its own against Western politicians, human rights groups and academics.

“We will never accept excruciatingly arrogant lectures from these ‘master teachers’!” Mr. Xi said in a speech on July 1 to commemorate 100 years since the Chinese Communist Party was founded.

Keith Bradsher contributed to the coverage.