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China’s top diplomat takes hardline stance in first call with new US Secretary of State

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In his first phone call with new United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken, China’s top diplomat has again pinned the blame on Washington for plunging bilateral relations to their lowest point in decades, and rejected international criticism of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

Yang Jiechi, the top foreign policy aide to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, told Blinken during their Friday call that the US should “correct recent mistakes, and work with China to promote the healthy and stable development of China-US relations by upholding the spirit of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” according to a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Yang emphasized that both sides should respect the other’s core interests, as well as political systems and developmental paths of their own choosing, the statement said.

“Each side should focus on taking care of its own domestic affairs. China will firmly continue down the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and no one can stop the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” Yang said.

Relations between Washington and Beijing under former US President Donald Trump were oftentimes fractious, with clashes on issues relating to trade, technology, regional security and human rights.

Recent statements from the new administration of President Joe Biden suggest there will be little in the way of pullback. In a speech Thursday, Biden described China as the US’ “most serious competitor” and outlined plans to confront Beijing’s “attack on human rights, intellectual property, and global governance.”

During the phone call Friday, Yang highlighted several major sources of continued tension between the two countries, including Taiwan, according to the Chinese statement.

Beijing claims full sovereignty over Taiwan, a democratic island of almost 24 million people, despite the fact that the two sides have been governed separately for more than seven decades.

Beijing has stepped up military activity around Taiwan since Biden took office, sending combat aircraft, including H-6K bombers, into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone on several occasions in what was seen as a direct message to the new US administration that China will not relent on its claims of sovereignty over the island.

On Thursday, the US Navy sent a guided-missile destroyer through the Taiwan Strait, the first time a US warship has gone through the waterway that separates China and Taiwan during the Biden administration.

Yang also warned Blinken that issues relating to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet are China’s internal affairs, and that the country would not tolerate any external interference, the Chinese statement said.

The Trump administration determined that China is committing genocide against Uyghur Muslims and ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, a designation Blinken has said he agrees with.

The US State Department has previously estimated that up to two million Uyghurs, as well as members of other Muslim minority groups, have been detained in a sprawling network of internment camps in the region.

According to a readout of Friday’s call provided by the US State Department, Blinken stressed the US would continue to stand up for human rights and democratic values, including in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, and pressed China to join the international community in condemning the military coup in Myanmar.

Blinken also reaffirmed that the US would work together with its allies and partners to hold China accountable for its “efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan Strait,” the US statement said.

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