Idealism or realism? The Biden administration appears to grapple with this question when formulating its foreign policy. During his speech at the US Department of State (DOS), President BidenJoe Biden Biden balks at student loan forgiveness plan K Biden offers to help woman get vaccine for son with pre-existing disease Biden optimistic US will be in ‘very different circumstances’ with pandemic by Christmas PLUS pledged to call a democracy summit and push back against authoritarianism.
Some would say that this is an idealistic business. Biden also acknowledged that the United States would work with China to realize American interests. It would be a pragmatic approach that would allow him to address two of his top administrations the priorities COVID-19 and climate with authoritarian China.
However, in the same speech, Biden also said that the United States would push back China’s human rights violations and challenges to democracy. Again, one could argue that it is idealistic to think that any country except China could positively change Beijing’s human rights practices. If the Biden administration is to realize American interests when working with China, it would do well to recognize the limits of American power on issues of Chinese democracy and human rights while effectively practicing American values in his country to strengthen moral authority.
Beijing’s position has always been clear: the top priority of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is to maintain power. Chinese President Xi Jinping Effectively mentionned this at the World Economic Forum 2021. The policy was reiterated by Yang Jiechi, director of the Foreign Affairs Committee office of the CPC Central Committee, just days before Bidens’ first foreign policy speech.
Despite the red line, the Biden administration has begun to engage China at a high level on issues of democracy and human rights. US Secretary of State Antony blinkAntony BlinkenNight defense: rocket attack in Iraq | Pentagon and FEMA to Set Up Vaccination Teams in Texas, NYC | Biden’s decision on Yemen raises new questions Blinken says he receives “ occasional digs ” from other countries on U.S. democracy Iran is playing a role in resolving the conflict in Yemen, the US special correspondent LEARN MORE raised issues of democracy and human rights in China, specifically mentioning Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, before addressing security concerns in its first call with Yang, his Chinese counterpart. According to Chinese reading, Yang open with China’s vision for the US-China relationship and then said the two countries should respect their individual political systems. Instead of focusing directly on achievable US interests, the Biden administration appears to have prioritized a Chinese red line. This poses several questions for the democracy and human rights component of the Chinese administration’s policy.
First, what does the Biden administration want in terms of democracy and human rights? Does he want a change of regime? Does he want self-determination for Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong? Or are administrations aiming for a return to collective leadership and less visible human rights violations?
Second, the Democracy Summit go to authoritarian China? Will there be a leadership statement with specific reference to China and how should summit attendees approach it on issues of democracy and human rights? Will Taiwan join? Is the purpose of the summits to declare an informal containment policy against China and other authoritarian states?
On the broader multilateral front, will the Biden administration join the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council and call for an investigation into human rights violations? in China? Will he call on other UN agencies, the G7 and the G20 to systematically and visibly raise human rights issues in China?
To be clear, the record of democracy and human rights in China is atrocious. It has become more and more totalitarian and engages in inhumane treatment of some of its minority groups. Just look forced labor in Xinjiang. But given the red lines of Chinese regimes and the fact that it is up to the Chinese people to decide what form of government they want, the Biden administration must take a realistic approach once it concludes its review of US-Chinese politics.
It will be difficult to deal with China in a way that allows the United States to realize its interests while upholding its values. The Biden administration must approach democracy and human rights in China with clear eyes and aim for benefits for the American people while avoiding unnecessary conflict. Doing this starts at home and we have a lot of work to do.
Quinn Marschik previously served in the Trump administration as political advisor to the Assistant Under Secretary for International Affairs at the US Department of Labor.
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