Nearly halfway through Biden’s term in office he finally met the Chinese president to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.
By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News
I’ve given up being amazed at how stupidly the Biden administration conducts its diplomacy with China and, by extension, Asia altogether. I spend my time now being amazed at how stupid these people assume the Chinese and other Asians to be.
Nearly halfway through his term in office — and let us hope there is not another after this one — the man from Scranton finally met Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.
This first face-to-face encounter since Joe Biden began his presidency comes after nearly two years of diplomatic drift during which the U.S. has escalated the threat of open conflict, incessantly provoked the Chinese on the Taiwan question and the administration’s bench of incompetents makes one mess after another. All the while Beijing has been consolidating an extensive range of ties with non–Western nations in the declared cause of a new world order.
I do not see that anything of moment got done when Biden and Xi met just prior to the Group of 20 session in Bali this week. A great deal could have been accomplished, of course, given the worsening state of the bilateral relationship, but Biden proved once again not up to it. He seems to have figured the Chinese side would be too stupid to notice that he and his administration are effectively paralyzed, a herd of deer caught in headlights.
Our moment calls upon American statesmen and stateswomen to act imaginatively, creatively, even courageously in response to a new era and new geopolitical circumstances. But those sailing the American ship of state, from the president on down, have neither imagination nor creativity nor courage. All they can do is reiterate past positions while expecting the other side to respond differently.
This is what Xi got in Bali on Monday. Nothing more. Nothing has changed, nothing of consequence has moved forward.
It was easy enough to see this pointlessness coming, this remove from reality, as Biden and his people advertised the Bali summit last week. America proposes to “build a floor in the relationship,” officials declared. The object of the encounter was to “set expectations.” The two sides need to “draw red lines,” Biden said in a press conference last Wednesday, “and determine whether or not they” —China’s and Washington’s red lines — “conflict with one another. And if they do, how to resolve it and how to work it out.”
What in these various remarks is there to hold onto, what of constructive substance did the U.S. side propose to get done in Bali? It is all sponge, exhausted rhetoric, a continued commitment to avoid addressing the Sino–U.S. relationship seriously.
This is what I mean by paralysis. American officials have nothing to say when they speak across the Pacific, and therefore say nothing in the cotton-wool language of obfuscation. The diplomacy of no diplomacy, as I have previously called it.
Straight talk — always cover a shortcoming by proclaiming it a strength — was another running theme in the run-up. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said at a presser last Thursday: “The president will get to sit in the same room with Xi Jinping, be direct and straightforward with him as he always is, and expect the same in return from Xi.” I love the “as he always is.”
And then the Big Guy, as Hunter Biden called his Pop when doling out the bribes during the latter’s vice-presidency, said: “I know Xi Jinping…. I’ve always had straightforward discussions with him….We have very little misunderstanding. We just got to figure out what the red lines are.”
All this seems to have been calculated to convey the impression that there is a set of new problems between Beijing and Washington and Biden has arrived to resolve them.
Say what? Refusing to put a floor in the Sino–American relationship has been the building block of U.S. policy since the Biden regime came to power in January 2021. China has since that day made its perfectly reasonable expectations clear and has drawn all the red lines it needs, only to see Washington ignore the expectations, the red lines and everything else the Chinese have had to say.
As to Biden the straight talker, this gets to be a clown act. Do he and his people think the Chinese do not know they are dealing with an habitual liar, having been on the receiving end of many of Biden’s falsehoods and elisions — notably, but not only, on the Taiwan question?
I’m not sure why any of this flimsy PR was necessary in the first place. At that press conference last Wednesday Biden asserted with evident righteousness that he would make “no fundamental concessions” to China on the Taiwan question. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Xi was forthright, as always, when Taiwan came up. “The Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China–U.S. relations and the first red line that must not be crossed in China–U.S. relations,” Xi said according to a Xinhua report. “Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China’s internal affair.”
It doesn’t get much clearer, does it? And Biden?
“Biden said he sought to assure Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan, which has for decades been to support both Beijing’s ‘One China’ stance and Taiwan’s military, had not changed,” Reuters reported from Nusa Dua, the Balinese town where the G–20 met Tuesday. “He said there was no need for a new Cold War.”
It doesn’t get much foggier. Biden has stated four times since taking office that the U.S. will defend Taiwan militarily in the event of open conflict between the island and the mainland — a straight-ahead repudiation of Washington’s longstanding commitment to the One China principle. The U.S. now embarks on a major new program to increase military aid to Taiwan.
Two-Front Cold War
As to a new Cold War, we hear the same thing as regards Russia and the Ukraine conflict. It has been evident for many months that the U.S. is well along in waging a two-front Cold War, Ukraine and Taiwan its sharp forward edges.
And then there is what the Chinese call the salami-slicing, a running series of small aggressions, none very large in itself, to inch away from One China toward de facto support for Taiwan’s independence. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grandstanding visit to Taipei last summer is a case in point, even if it proved a very thick slice of salami.
In this latter connection, the ideologically obsessed Sullivan took it upon himself to announce before the Biden–Xi summit that the administration intended to brief Taiwan officials about what was said in the talks. This is two things: another incremental move toward legitimizing Taiwan’s standing as an independent state and, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry succinctly put it, an “egregious” violation of diplomatic protocol.
It is impossible to imagine that Sullivan spoke without prior calculation. This is how Washington slices its salami.
At this point you have to admire the Chinese side for their patience in the face of this tedium. They sit there, one diplomatic encounter after another, and listen courteously as Washington invites them not to believe what is right before their eyes.
Biden’s message to Xi, such as we can speak of one, is by now familiar. Let’s cooperate on non-threatening matters such as climate change, compete in the economic and technology spheres, and face off as adversaries on national security and geopolitical questions — the South China Sea, Taiwan, nuclear stockpiles and so on.
As noted previously in this space, Beijing has been clear from the Biden administration’s first days that it does not take this cake-and-eat-it talk the least bit seriously.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried this on a few months after Biden was inaugurated. Then Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s No. 2, tried it. Then John Kerry, as Biden’s top climate diplomat, tried it very briefly. All with the same result: a string of failures — some spectacular (Blinken and Sullivan in Alaska in March 2021), others “quiet disasters,” as Foreign Policy put it after Sherman’s talks in Tianjin a few months later.
Now Biden has just tried the same thing, with a notable assist from Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, who accompanied him to Bali.
As noted some weeks ago, the U.S. has just imposed a range of new restrictions on U.S. technology exports explicitly intended — see Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — to retard, if not block altogether, China’s development in high-technology sectors such as semiconductors. We have to assume this shameful act of industrial sabotage is what Biden and the policy cliques mean by competing on the economic side.
Here is Yellen, in an interview with The New York Times last Saturday, on the new sanctions, and we’ll have to forgive the non-sentence:
“I think stabilizing the relationship and trying to get it on a better footing while recognizing that we have a whole range of concerns, and we would like to address those…. They need to understand, for example, why we take actions. I know their concern, for example, about our policies of banning sales of advanced semiconductors. It’s important for us to explain why we’re doing things, how it’s delineated, that it’s not an attempt to completely paralyze China’s economy and stop its development.”
No, not completely, just critically and mostly.
In his post-summit remarks, Biden said he told Xi it was China’s responsibility to keep North Korea’s weapons programs in check and that if Beijing failed to do so the U.S. “would have to take certain actions that would be more defensive on our own behalf.” This is an altogether bizarre remark, but I detect a veiled intention in it — two, in fact.
One, by assigning China responsibility for Pyongyang’s conduct, ridiculous on the face of it, Joe “Diplomacy First” Biden is weaseling out of any renewed effort to open talks with the North: It is all on you, Mr. Xi.
Two, this position may be a screen — hard to say just yet—for what is already a major Pentagon program to increase the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific. The U.S. has used North Korea as an excuse in this way for many years, let us not forget.
I don’t know how quiet or noisy this disaster will prove, but I am certain of the disaster part. China agreed to reopen lines of communications on climate matters and other such questions, which it had closed in response to the Pelosi visit. It is not nothing, but it is barely more.
I do not know where in the proceedings this remark occurred, but I consider Xi had the last word:
“History is the best textbook. We should take it as a mirror and let it guide the future…. A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.”
Excellent stuff. After half a millennium of the Atlantic world’s dominance, the non–West lectures the West. It tells us just what time it is on history’s clock.
—Research provided by Cara Marianna.
Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon site.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.