China’s government has rejected President Biden’s assertion that a thaw in tense U.S.-China relations is coming soon, with Beijing demanding an end to sanctions on Chinese officials and companies, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Mr. Biden was asked during a press conference at the recent Group of Seven (G7) summit in Japan about the lack of communications between the two nations at a time when the Chinese military is conducting provocative military activities in the Taiwan Strait.
“Well, number one, you’re right, we should have an open hotline,” Mr. Biden told reporters, noting that establishing such a hotline was something Chinese President Xi Jinping had agreed to do when the two met in November in Indonesia.
“And then this silly balloon that was carrying two freight cars’ worth of spying equipment was flying over the United States, and it got shot down, and everything changed in terms of talking to one another,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the Chinese surveillance balloon that transited the U.S. in February.
“I think you’re going to see that begin to thaw very shortly,” the president said.
A U.S. Air Force jet shot down the spy balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4, and tensions surrounding the incident soared during subsequent weeks.
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The shootdown derailed a planned trip to Beijing by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had intended to visit the Chinese capital as part of a Biden administration policy shift toward seeking détente with China’s communist party-ruled government.
The administration has since sought to push past the incident, and has continued during recent weeks to seek closer diplomatic ties with Beijing amid fears of a potential U.S.-China conflict.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met recently with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Vienna. Among the matters the two discussed was the possibility of rescheduling Mr. Blinken’s visit to Beijing.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Monday that he had no announcements about whether the trip is on.
“We’ve made clear that we think it’s important that we engage with China about issues of shared concern and about issues where we have concerns about actions by the PRC,” Mr. Miller said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines recently testified to the Senate that China’s communist-controlled military refuses to hold talks with U.S. military counterparts, especially during incidents or crises.
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The lack of military communications has increased the risk that conflict could break out over a military encounter at sea or in the air between the U.S. and Chinese militaries.
Chinese officials have said military communications between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Li Shangfu will not be held until the United States lifts sanctions on Gen. Li.
The general was sanctioned in 2018 for selling Su-35 combat aircraft and S-400 missiles to Russia.
The State Department said on Monday that it would not lift sanctions on Gen. Li.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told reporters in Beijing on Monday that China and the United States will maintain needed communications, but that talk cannot be held until Washington lifts sanctions on Chinese officials and institutions.
“China always firmly opposes illegal unilateral sanctions and has made clear its stern position to the U.S. side,” spokeswoman Mao Ning said.
“The U.S. side should immediately lift sanctions and take concrete actions to remove obstacles, create favorable atmosphere and conditions for dialogue and communication,” she said.
Ms. Mao added that relations will remain cool because the United States is “seeking to suppress China through all possible means.”
Her comments came after the G7 industrial nations group criticized China in a joint leaders statement at the end of the group’s summit in Hiroshima, Japan, over the weekend.
The statement cited a range of issues, including Beijing’s efforts to promote its communist non-market economy that “distorts” the global economy.
“We will counter malign practices, such as illegitimate technology transfer or data disclosure. We will foster resilience to economic coercion,” the G7 statement said.
“We also recognize the necessity of protecting certain advanced technologies that could be used to threaten our national security without unduly limiting trade and investment.”
Mr. Biden said during Sunday’s press conference in Hiroshima that the statement outlined a unified allied policy for dealing with China.
The statement by the G7, made up of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan, said advanced technology that could be used to threaten national security needed to be protected without severely restricting trade and investment.
The United States has moved to restrict China’s access to advanced microchips under the CHIPS and Science Act passed into law last year.
The law requires microchip makers not to expand capacity in China if the companies receive funds from a $39 billion pool of money aimed at advancing the U.S. semiconductor industry.
The G7 statement said the group does not seek to “harm China” or limit its economic development, and that a growing China that plays by international rules is in the world’s interest.
The statement went on to list problems caused by Chinese aggressive activities in the East and South China Seas, where Beijing has made expansive territorial claims over internationally disputed islands.
“We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas. We strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force or coercion,” the statement said.
“There is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea, and we oppose China’s militarization activities in the region,” the G7 said.
China has built up several islands in the sea and deployed anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles on some, the Pentagon has said.
Friction over Taiwan
Beijing considers the U.S.-backed island democracy of Taiwan to be part of China’s sovereign territory, and Mr. Xi has publicly vowed that the island will eventually be brought under China’s control using force if necessary.
The G7 statement said maintaining peace and stability across the 100-mile-wide Taiwan Strait between the island and mainland China is “indispensable” to regional security and prosperity.
“We call for a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues,” the statement said.
China’s human rights abuses were also singled out by the G7, including repression in Tibet and Xinjiang, “where forced labor is a major concern to us,” the statement said.
The group separately denounced Beijing for not honoring its commitments to follow agreements permitting democracy, freedom and autonomy for Hong Kong; and called on China not to interfere with democratic institutions and to press Russia to halt its military aggression in Ukraine.
With regard to U.S.-China relations, Ms. Mao, the Chinese spokeswoman, said China’s ties to the United States are based on what President Xi Jinping has called principles of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.
“We urge the U.S. to form a correct perception of China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs and harming China’s sovereignty, security and development interests, and work with China to bring China-U.S. relations back to the right track with concrete actions,” she said.
Mr. Biden, meanwhile, gave mixed signals during his Hiroshima press conference on whether the United States would lift sanctions on Gen. Li in pursuit of talks with China.
“No, I’m not going to ease the sanctions,” the president said at one point.
Later, he was asked about efforts by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to meet Gen. Li and whether sanctions would be lifted on the defense minister.
Mr. Biden said, “That’s under negotiation right now,” and noted that his earlier comment about not lifting sanctions was in response to whether the U.S. would sell goods to China’s defense ministry.
Mr. Miller, the State Department spokesman, sought to clarify the president’s comments, saying the department does not plan to lift sanctions on Gen. Li to assist future talks. “No, we are not,” he told reporters.