PATRICK LAWRENCE: A Yellen in the China Shop

Given where the Biden regime sets the bar for its trans–Pacific statecraft these days, you have to wonder whether they chant “Limbo lower now!” as they send off the next official on one of these pointless demarches.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in 2022. (World Bank, Brandon Payne)

By Patrick Lawrence
Special to Consortium News

Janet Yellen did an excellent job during her just-completed four-day visit to Beijing, we are now able to read in the corporate press. The Treasury secretary managed not to break any more China in the China shop.

This counts as a diplomatic success for Americans. Given where the Biden regime sets the bar for its trans–Pacific statecraft these days, you have to wonder whether they chant “Limbo lower now!” as they send off the next official on one of these pointless demarches.

Yellen’s trans–Pacific overture was another in a long line of such journeys the Biden regime’s top officials have made since they made a mess of Sino–American relations as soon as they took office.

There seem to be only two ways these adventures can come out: Either it ends in disaster or nothing gets done. Yellen chose the latter course, and let us be satisfied: Avoiding another diplomatic breach is the best we can hope for from these people.

Yellen made no mention of “the international rules-based order” during her four days of talks, which were actually two days, given that she filled a good deal of her time with American business executives, not Chinese officials.

This was an improvement over the performances of Antony Blinken, America’s secretary of state, who reads from some imperial catechism on such occasions and must always sermonize those who do not conform to the rules-based-order commandment. 

Neither did Yellen nag the Chinese about the need for “guardrails” and “exit ramps” as the U.S. provokes the Chinese every which way it can — rhetorical tropes that make Tony sound more like a transportation bureaucrat than America’s top diplomat. Again, sensible.

A Parting Echo

At a press conference as she set off for home Sunday, Yellen delivered a line that seems to have got more attention than anything else she had to say during her stay in Beijing. “We believe that the world is big enough for both of our countries to thrive,” the secretary asserted.

I did a split-second double-take when I read this quotation in Sunday’s New York Times. Here is Xi Jinping lecturing — just the word — Tony Blinken during the 35 minutes the Chinese president gave the American secretary during the latter’s visit to Beijing several weeks ago: “Planet Earth is big enough to accommodate the respective development and common prosperity of China and the United States.”

[Related: Patrick Lawrence: US Still Nowhere with the Chinese]

American diplomacy with the Chinese is getting altogether weird. But again, repeating the Chinese leadership’s view as it if it has all along been America’s is better than another spill in Aisle 6. If you don’t have anything nice to say, as the old adage goes, say back what has been said to you, then get on your plane and look wise on the Sunday morning news programs.

Are you as bored as I am watching this conga line of Biden regime officials travel across the Pacific, saying the same thing, and come home every time with one of the two above-noted results — calamity or a lot of wasted jet fuel for the sake of being able to say, “We’re talking,” even if the two sides can do no more than talk about the importance of talking. 

Nothing Comes of Nothing

 Blinken leaving Beijing on June 19. (State Department, Chuck Kennedy)

First there was Blinken and Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, who seem to me the Abbott and Costello of Biden’s variety show. Then came Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s No. 2, then John Kerry, the regime’s never-seen climate man. In the middle we had various video calls between Biden and Xi.  What came out of these exchanges? You cannot name a single thing.

All of these people share three attributes. One, they know nothing about China.

Two, they do not care that they know nothing about China.

Three they do not care to know anything about China. They care only to project American power outward, most vigorously where it is most unwelcome. 

President Biden, see the above paragraph, had a sideline summit with Xi at last November’s Group of 20 session in Bali, where they communicated about … the need to communicate.

Blinken followed a few months later by balking on the eve of a planned visit to Beijing on the excuse that a Chinese weather balloon drifted into American air space. (No one in Washington military or intel circles has ever put their names on the spy balloon story beyond the good old “assessment” stage.) 

Last month we discovered why Blinken was so reticent: When he at last traveled to Beijing for two days of talks in mid–June, it was embarrassing. Blinken was the supplicant, not quite but nearly begging the Chinese to begin talking to the U.S. again and getting back teacher-to-student reprimands to the effect the Biden regime has to start saying what it means and meaning what it says.

Can’t have much of that, of course.

I loved our barely coherent president’s remarks at a fund-raiser in California wine country soon after Blinken got off his plane. Biden called the weather balloon an espionage craft “with two boxcars full of spy equipment in it;” asserted that Xi was embarrassed because he knew nothing of it and called the Chinese leader a dictator.

Good thing Blinken got nothing done in Beijing: If he had, his boss would’ve ruined it in the course of two sentences delivered to a roomful of nobodies who happen to be millionaire donors.

Better there was nothing to ruin.  

Biden then had the nerve to say of Xi, “The very important point is he’s in a situation now where he wants to have a relationship again.” Please forgive me, but this guy, even in his senility, simply cannot stop bullshitting.

I tell you, between Blinken and Nod I cannot imagine what all those level-headed officials in Beijing, from Xi on down, think of this tasteless vaudeville act.

The Biden regime is at this point desperate to reconstruct the most important relationship America will have in this century, having turned it into a dog’s dinner, but it is one pratfall after another with these Dummköpfe.

And so, Janet Yellen must give it a go. Saving grace: At least it is not yet Kamala Harris’ turn. Yikes, the thought of it.

Diplomacy as Domestic Policy

 Xi and Biden in November 2022 at the G20 in Bali. (White House, Wikimedia Commons, Public domain)

Yellen sounded the now-standard theme, the need to talk, primarily about talking, but indeed anything so long as there is the appearance of American diplomatic competence. “Ms. Yellen announced that the two sides would pursue more frequent communications at the highest levels,” as The New York Times reported in Sunday’s editions. “The desire for more dialogue struck some analysts as a significant development.”

Did it, indeed? It was clear even before Yellen boarded her plane back to Washington that, as a former Treasury official quoted in the Times put it, “Yellen’s trip will hardly change the underlying dynamic and trajectory of the economic relationship.”

How could it?

Yellen gave absolutely no indication that the Biden regime intended to make any consequential adjustments to any of the antagonistic policies toward China it now has in place — not the Trump-era tariffs, not the all-over-the-place sanctions, not the controls on exports of high-technology components, not imminent plans to impose restrictions on U.S. investment in China. Nothing about any of it.

“So far, we haven’t seen any sign that Biden will rethink his economic policy toward China,” Wu Jinbo, dean of international studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said in an interview with the Times. No, and by all indications they won’t.

Reuters reported from Washington Monday morning that the secretary is now urging Biden to drop a few of the least significant tariffs that remain in place. This is not a policy rethink by any stretch: Assuming for a sec that Biden buys into the idea, it would be a token move the point of which, given all else between Washington and Beijing, I cannot fathom and I doubt the Chinese will, either.  

For months Yellen has insisted that depriving China access to technology it needs to develop its advanced industries is not meant to damage China’s economy or inhibit its growth. She tried on the same argument last week. I await the American official able to explain how this does not amount to a frontal attack on an economy with which the U.S. is losing its ability to compete.

As to the commonly made argument that technology and investment restrictions are necessary in the name of protecting America’s national security — Yellen repeated it, of course — it is nothing more than a cheap dodge by any serious assessment.

This is merely what it looks like, unprettily, when a declining imperium faces a rising power.

What would an American diplomatic encounter with China be without its list of criticisms and demands of the sort no civilized nation would think to make in its foreign relations? Yellen’s were interesting. We might learn something from them.

Among her complaints were Beijing’s support for public-sector enterprises — pure boilerplate — its recent (retaliatory) decision to block rare-earth exports to the U.S. and China’s production of upstream chemicals, with various legal uses, that find their way into the downstream production of fentanyl outside China’s borders. 

There are a few things to say about these questions. One, there is another, Chinese side to all of them the U.S. declines to acknowledge.

Two, in the scheme of things they are not of first-rank geopolitical magnitude. It is always important to take a whack at the Chinese even if you claim to be trying to repair relations.

And three, there is the question of who Yellen was actually talking to when she raised such matters in Beijing. As these trans–Pacific encounters accumulate, I grow ever more convinced that these occasions are in large part spectacle.

American officials in Beijing are in many cases not talking to the Chinese: They are talking to the hawks who have taken over China policy in Washington.

It is diplomacy as domestic politics, in other words. Do you think the Chinese do not understand this, the essential unseriousness of their American guests? I am ever more impressed by the extent of China’s patience and courtesy.

Janet Yellen goes to Beijing, Janet Yellen returns to Washington, not a damn thing was meant to change and not a damn thing does.

Next on the list — we are well into round two now — is Kerry, who is charged with getting some kind of conversation on the climate question going again when he travels to Beijing later this month.

I do dread Kamala Harris’ moment, should her number ever come up. If it comes to this, the Biden regime will not be able to talk to China, even about more talking anymore. 

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a columnist, essayist, lecturer and author, most recently of  Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His new book Journalists and Their Shadows, is forthcoming from Clarity Press. 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.

22 comments for “PATRICK LAWRENCE: A Yellen in the China Shop

  1. Daniel
    July 13, 2023 at 13:12

    Mr. Lawrence is one of the best observers/commenters writing today. I relish each and every entry, each and every line, and the last in this piece re: a potential VP visit to China caused a spit-take of my morning coffee. Also: “Please forgive me, but this guy [Biden,] even in his senility, simply cannot stop bullshitting.” Bingo. And it’s easy to hate Biden for this, in part because he’s also responsible for so many of the reasons for the bullshit, having served 195 years in Congress. There is more evidence every day that his whole operation – in and out of office, and including his family – is a criminal enterprise. His violations as President of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution alone is enough to remove him from office for the rest of his demented days.

    And they said that Trump made the US look bad. Biden is a pro by comparison.

  2. C. Parker
    July 13, 2023 at 03:00

    More brilliant writing from Patrick Lawrence. His use of the language is impressive and he never fails to use some humor and wit. It sure takes the edge off reading depressing news.

    “I tell you, between Blinken and Nod I cannot imagine what all those level-headed officials in Beijing, from Xi on down, think of this tasteless vaudeville act.” This is not only very funny, but, it is an accurate description. A nice bit of laughter goes a long way.

    Thanks to Consortium News for bringing this group of smart journalists of whom I’ve learned much. Patrick Lawrence, particularly, is a pleasure to read.

    • Robert
      July 13, 2023 at 11:25

      “I do dread Kamala Harris’ moment, should her number ever come up”

      That one fit perfectly into the ending. The Chinese government could fill a stadium of high priced tickets for a “debate” between Kamala and her Chinese counterpart. My guess is that a 45 minute schedule would end early when Kamala’s handlers threw in the towel at the 20 minute mark.

  3. David Otness
    July 13, 2023 at 01:52

    I have arrived.

    • David Otness
      July 13, 2023 at 16:04

      Read ’em and weep. This is what we are actually up against, this is how far we have fallen. Do we have sufficient and strong enough bootstraps to pull ourselves up and out of this abyss’s maw?


  4. Frank Lambert
    July 12, 2023 at 23:02

    An excellent and funny critique of Janet Yellen’s visit to China. Glad to see Patrick liven it up with some humor, though it was comical enough with Yellen’s advice to the Chinese. Hmm…earlier this year she visited the Ukrainian clown in Ukraine and one wonders what they discussed. Maybe something like, “Don’t worry, Zelensky, I control the money supply in the US , and will give you even more cash and lethal weapons to be used against the Big Bad Bear!” Birds of a feather flock together, as they say.

    NATO, an anachronism, should have ceased to exist once the Soviet Union was no more. I blame the naive Gorbachev for swallowing the bait of the olive branch Uncle Sam offered him. So, the master plan of US (mostly) and Western European capitalists and the international bankers (usury specialists) were off to a good start with their military might to bomb, occupy and or threaten any nation which doesn’t prostitute it’s people and succumb to the dictates of Imperial America.

    The Chinese have come along way from the coolie/rickshaw days and have first class diplomats and scholars approaching problems with level heads and long range thinking. They won’t be intimidated by threats from the West and the incompetent likes of Blinken, Sullivan, Yellen, and soon Kerry or on how to run their country.

    And Crazy Joe from Delaware is sending cluster bombs to Ukraine? Heaven help us.

  5. Hegesias
    July 12, 2023 at 17:18

    At least the Cackler watched Squid Game with her husband to prepare for her trip to South Korea.

  6. July 12, 2023 at 17:14

    What most of those fools don’t realize is that the Chinese are fully capable of developing themselves the technologies the U.S. refuses to share with them. Their scientists and engineers are every bit as smart as ours (if not smarter) and can replicate anything we make. I would, of course, be quicker and cheaper if we handed it over directly, but it’s only a matter of time before they will have it all.

    The other thing they don’t get is that the Chinese play the long game. Time is on their side. Americans, who are obsessed with instant gratification and need immediate return on investment are at distinct disadvantage.

    • Brian BIxby
      July 13, 2023 at 11:26

      As I said on one “liberal” web site, and was resoundingly attacked for, if we force the Dutch to stop selling chip fab machinery and the Taiwanese to stop selling chips the result is going to be depressingly predictable. China will develop its own lithography systems and turn out chips of their own design, which will quickly supplant the Intel/AMD duopoly and become the new standard. Even more embarrassing, since US corps are going to be prohibited from investing in in the new tech we won’t even see any of the profits.

      Are you tired of all the winning yet?

  7. lester
    July 12, 2023 at 16:04

    Ordinary Chinese people get more and more prosperous. Infrastructure gets more and better all the time. In the USA, just the opposite. China’s leaders could do worse than watch and wait.

  8. July 12, 2023 at 15:07

    Magnificent description! I hope this get legs (becomes a meme):

    “John Kerry, the regime’s never-seen climate man”

  9. July 12, 2023 at 15:04

    In related matters, the New York Times couldn’t help but take a whack at Communism in today’s obituary of Kundera:

  10. gcw919
    July 12, 2023 at 13:20

    Lawrence writes, “Yellen made no mention of “the international rules-based order” during her four days of talks…”
    This had me wondering how the “rules-based” order works in the minds of these administration simpletons: The US is one of only THREE countries not to outlaw cluster-bombs, one of the more insidious weapons of recent decades. Yet we have the audacity to lecture others such as the Chinese about human rights, etc. This would serve as a good theme for theatre-of-the-absurd if the consequences so weren’t so deadly.

  11. Maricata
    July 12, 2023 at 11:39

    “Then came Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s No. 2, then John Kerry, the regime’s never-seen climate man. ”

    Now that is funny and especially in light of the famous Forbes Family, the dynasty that birthed carry.

    The Forbes is one of the oldest dynasties in America.

    Kerry should know a thing or two about China for his family shipped opium there for the British in the first opium war.

  12. Piotr Berman
    July 12, 2023 at 11:12

    USA faces a profound problem: it needs goods, but in too many cases it cannot produce them cheaper than countries with lower wages, good education and good infrastructure. As long as this combination did not exist, USA was an exporting powerhouse, and the best way to take advantage of that was “free trade”. Then Japan became a danger, but as an allied and highly dependent country, the problem was solved, although the outcome in Japan was mediocre.

    Perhaps this success cemented the devotion to free trade in American elite (and for some reasons I do not understand, in EU) and the era of de-industrialization begun. The chief internal problem that was diagnosed was insufficient flexibility of labor. In any case, industries, starting from most labor intensive, migrated abroad, initially to Mexico, but more and more to China. USA became import powerhouse. Trade deficit was covered by having the most efficient financial system with the most liquid and reliable financial instrument, Treasury bills and bonds, short and long term debt of USG.

    But by now, in China, education, infrastructure and completeness of supply chain became better than in USA. So USA has to face the situation depicted on the cover of the Dilbert book, “It’s Obvious You Wont Survive by Your Wits Alone” hxxps://” rel=”nofollow ugc”>It’s obvious you will not survive by your wits alone. Until now, it was axiomatic that free enterprise, with not shackles like excessive regulations and trade barrier unleashes INGENUITY that leads to increasing prosperity. Which is less obvious when the products designed with this ingenuity are made in China, and even less obvious when China makes products made with Chinese ingenuity like solar panels. Actually, it became so absurd that I did not see lately much on ingenuity (our wits?) unleashed by the free enterprise.

    So we somehow need to block imports from China and re-industrialize. Agriculture is competitive, but already mining is better done abroad (notably, in China), not to mention 90% of manufactured goods (this is too high percentage, but definitely too high). So there are sound reasons for trade restrictions. However, mild trade restrictions like 30% duties do not help much (they help balance the budget as an indirect tax, but the cost differential is often higher), and anything more drastic requires blasphemies to free enterprise religion. This necessitates the use of the main loophole in this religion: trading with the enemy. No blessings for the enemies, least of all, free trade.

    Thus enmity to China became NECESSARY. China has to be vilified and threatened, and, with the genius of American diplomacy, isolated. The future of this project is debatable, I am pessimistic but I am not a seer. Nevertheless, to me it would be more cost effective to abandon free enterprise religion, and without wasting resources that are badly needed for re-industrialization (including infrastructure and education) on arms race, wars and MIC in general.

    Historically, replacing a dominant religion could be a bloody affair. Civil wars in Roman Empire caused by different theories on the nature of Christ. Catholic-Protestant wars in 16-17 century Europe (and mind you, heretics that question the ruling dogma of feudalism were almost unanimously exterminated, by bi-confessional consensus of Catholic and Protestant princes). This makes MIC approach more realistic in terms of implementation. But will it really lead to re-industrialization? So far, it is hard to see. Actually, “free enterprise” in the current form is detrimental to re-industrialization in more ways than just foreign competition, and the war fever diverts our attention.

  13. July 12, 2023 at 10:32

    A steady stream of “supplicants” accomplishing nothing, means there is a very big power shift taking place. It appears that when it comes to diplomacy the Chinese know the game well.

  14. Jeff Harrison
    July 12, 2023 at 10:27

    Yes. And I read somewhere that the US wanted to trade the lifting of a few minor tariffs for a promise to buy $850B in US debt and lifting the Chinese retaliatory restrictions on rare earths. I’m assuming that that’s somebody’s wet dream. ‘Cause the current situation is reminding me of the Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones. We’re heading for a financial train wreck where the need to sell debt collides with a world awash in dollars (see:1971)

  15. Lois Gagnon
    July 12, 2023 at 09:11

    This is how a government that is so captured by the ruling class and its mercenary intel agencies, it can’t possibly accomplish anything that even appears to be diplomacy. We have been reduced to a freakish clown show by the lords and ladies of the oligarchy. Slavish devotion to profits above all else for the wealthy few at the expense of everyone else is leading to the collapse of any semblance of good governance in the West. It is indeed spectacle on the world stage. A very embarrassing spectacle.

  16. TP Graf
    July 12, 2023 at 08:10

    Biden and troop should just stick to intimidation of the lapdogs of Europe. There they rack up one success after another despite the negative impact on the citizens of their own countries (ours included). One can find it both pitiful and amusing that we keep making treks to China while the Chinese leadership finds no need to trek here. The great hegemon, with its empty gestures, seems to believe the Chinese are as stupid as our members of Congress. “Let’s talk,” they say, while the Chinese are supposed to ignore 800+ bases, arming Taiwan, other gross military buildups, sanction wars, tariff wars, etc. Here’s an idea. Stop talking; start listening. A few million Ukrainians would still be in their homes, and tens of thousands still alive had we “ears to hear.”

    • Andrew Nichols
      July 12, 2023 at 17:17

      The sad thing is …all western minority world media dont go here. They wont point out the obvious now banal hypocrisy of the Empire’s China bashing..and our leaders like Hipkins in NZ just suck up to the imperial message.

  17. July 12, 2023 at 07:53

    Wonderful discussion again Patrick. I was always shocked by how bad Trump’s foreign policy team was, with freaks like Pompeo and the like. But somehow, this group of misfits has Trump’s team outdone, which is truly a feat to behold.

  18. Valerie
    July 12, 2023 at 06:27

    Talk is cheap. China probably puts more store in “actions”, rather than any rhetoric coming from the likes of Blinken, Yellen and the next visitor, John Kerry, to “talk” about the climate crisis. Some of the actions proposed by the US:

    ” US to open embassy in Vanuatu as it seeks to counter China in the Pacific”

    “Washington, which has ties with the island nation but has been represented by diplomats based in New Guinea, also plans embassies in Kiribati and Tonga.”
    April 3rd 2023 Guardian

    “US set to open Tonga embassy in May as Pacific push ramps up”

    “Top east Asia diplomat says US also in talks with Vanuatu and Kiribati on proposed embassies, amid concerns about China’s presence in region.”
    May 3rd 2023 Guardian

    “NATO to expand Asia-Pacific presence by opening office in Japan”
    May 7th 2023 WSWS
    (France voiced its opposition to this idea.)

    “as the U.S. provokes the Chinese every which way it can” – you got that right Mr. Lawrence.

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