China snubs senior US official in worsening diplomatic stand-off

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Beijing has snubbed the US by refusing to grant Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, a gathering along with her counterpart throughout a proposed go to to China that will have been the primary top-level engagement since acrimonious talks in Alaska.

The US halted plans for Sherman to journey to Tianjin after China refused to comply with a gathering with Le Yucheng, her counterpart, in line with 4 folks conversant in the choice. China provided a gathering with Xie Feng, the quantity 5 overseas ministry official who’s liable for US affairs.

The Biden administration had been negotiating what would have been the primary high-level engagement since their first assembly in Alaska, which erupted right into a public spat between Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, and Yang Jiechi, the highest Chinese language overseas coverage official.

Whereas the state division had not mentioned Sherman would journey to China, she had deliberate to go to after a visit to Japan, South Korea and Mongolia.

The Chinese language snub follows an analogous stand-off between the 2 international locations’ militaries. China earlier this yr rebuffed a number of requests for Lloyd Austin, US defence secretary, to fulfill Common Xu Qiliang, China’s most senior army official. However China refused to have interaction, after beforehand providing a gathering with the defence minister, who’s much less senior in its system.

Evan Medeiros, a China knowledgeable at Georgetown College, mentioned China was “taking part in video games” for the reason that historical past of diplomatic conferences made clear Sherman needs to be assembly with Le, the quantity two overseas ministry official.

“China’s transfer is a harmful one. It will increase mistrust, rigidity and the chance of miscalculation throughout an already fraught interval,” Medeiros mentioned.

China had initially steered that Sherman may additionally maintain a videocall with Wang Yi, the Chinese language overseas minister, throughout her go to to Tianjin.

Final month Kurt Campbell, the highest White Home Asia official, mentioned the US was pissed off that China refused to rearrange conferences with officers who’re near Xi Jinping. He mentioned even Yang and Wang have been “nowhere close to inside 100 miles” of the Chinese language president’s interior circle of trusted advisers.

The stand-off comes 4 months after the Alaska assembly, which additionally ended on an acrimonious notice. On the finish of the two-day assembly, Yang informed Blinken in personal that he would welcome a follow-on assembly in China, to which the secretary of state mentioned “thanks”. When Yang requested if that meant he would go to, Blinken responded “thanks means thanks” in a transparent indication that the US was not ready to carry one other assembly that angered China.

“Maybe they’re attempting to punish the US for inadequate respect in Anchorage,” mentioned Bonnie Glaser, a China knowledgeable on the German Marshall Fund. “Or perhaps Beijing is just testing the Biden administration, and can ultimately suggest the next stage ministry of overseas affairs official and the go to may very well be added to Sherman’s itinerary.”

Ryan Hass, a former state division China knowledgeable now at Brookings Establishment, mentioned it was “widespread” for the US and China to have interaction in haggling over protocol at the beginning of a brand new administration in Washington.

“Incoming US officers usually need to defend the protocol stage at which their workplace traditionally has been obtained by Chinese language authorities, and vice versa,” Hass mentioned. “Most of these protocol kerfuffles usually — however not at all times — work themselves out by the point of arrival of the senior official.”

A senior state division official mentioned the US would proceed to “discover alternatives” to have interaction Chinese language officers. “As in all journey overseas, we make bulletins solely as soon as — and if — we decide {that a} go to has the potential to be substantive and constructive for our functions.” US officers mentioned the state division was holding “ongoing” discussions with Beijing a few potential go to.

The US seen the Sherman go to as a potential stepping stone to a China go to by Blinken that will set the stage for President Joe Biden to carry his first assembly with Xi on the G20 summit in Italy in October.

The Chinese language embassy didn’t reply to a request for remark.

Comply with Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter

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