US and China clash anew

Trump signs into law an act that authorises sanctions for Chinese officials involved in the detention of 1m Uighur and other Turkic Muslims

WASHINGTON • The US on Wednesday pressed China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims and Hong Kong as the two powers stood firm in high-level talks in Hawaii on soaring tensions.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi at a Honolulu military base, in the two countries’ highest-level meeting since the coronavirus pandemic sent tensions skyrocketing, an official said.

They met away from media as excerpts came out from an explosive memoir by former US national security advisor John Bolton, who said President Donald Trump asked President Xi Jinping for assistance in his re-election.

Just as Pompeo met Yang, Trump signed into law an act that authorises sanctions for Chinese officials involved in the detention of some one million Uighur Muslims and other Turkic Muslims. Beijing quickly responded that the law “maliciously attacks” China and threatened consequences.

And Pompeo and his counterparts from the other Group of Seven (G-7) major industrial democracies put out a joint statement voicing “grave concerns” about a draft security law in Hong Kong. “We strongly urge the government of China to reconsider this decision,” said the joint statement by Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US.

China is moving ahead with a law that would prohibit subversion and other perceived offenses in the financial hub, to which Beijing promised autonomy before taking back the British colony in 1997.

In response, Yang said at the meeting with Pompeo that Beijing’s “determination” to introduce the law was “unwavering”, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry website.

Yang said China “resolutely opposes the statement made by the G-7 foreign ministers on Hong Kong-related issues,” according to the statement.

With Trump under fire at home over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, his Republican Party has increasingly cast China as the villain ahead of November elections.

But Bolton’s book — which the administration is trying to block — tells another story, saying Trump asked China to boost his election prospects by requesting that it buy more farm produce.

Bolton, according to an excerpt published by The Washington Post, also said Xi explained the Uighur camps to Trump, who replied that they were “exactly the right thing to do”.

Activists say China is forcibly homogenising minorities in a brainwashing campaign with few modern precedents. Beijing counters that it is running vocational educational centres that offer an alternative to Islamic extremism.

Yang reportedly sought the meeting with Pompeo, following a similar quiet encounter with him in New York in August to address tensions.

China’s state-run People’s Daily, which said Pompeo and Yang also met the night before, called the talks “constructive”. “Both sides agreed to continue maintaining contact and communication,” it said.

The US was cooler in its assessment, saying Pompeo told Yang the two nations need “fully reciprocal dealings”.

“He also stressed the need for full transparency and information sharing to combat the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and prevent future outbreaks,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Pompeo has been in the forefront of denouncing China, saying in recent remarks that it was “truly hostile” to the US and “ruthlessly imposes communism”.

Whether the US and China reach any rhetorical truce could become clear quickly. Pompeo is set to speak today at a Danish forum, where the State Department said he will discuss “threats to democracy around the world”. — AFP