Testy, jarring, frosty, an exchange of insults were some of the media descriptions of last month’s meeting in Anchorage, Alaska between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts.
Council on Foreign Relations Chairman Richard Haass said that, rather than the skillful management needed in US-China relations, this meeting had been mismanaged, a terrible start. [with] far too much public signage.
Yet, contrary to popular belief, the acrimonious meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi () and Director of the Chinese Central Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi () was a great success for American diplomacy and auspicious for long-term bilateral relations.
The so-called good news that traditionally came out of previous meetings between the United States and China has invariably advanced China’s interests at the expense of American interests. Decades of win-win results in Beijing are what brought US-China relations to their current worrisome state.
The administration of former US President Donald Trumps was putting an end to this dynamic and Beijing had convinced himself that US President Joe Biden, who as vice president had cultivated a personal relationship with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping (), would return to the sympathetic mode of the administrations of former US presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
That’s why, after initially posting images of Wang and Yang’s tirades against the Americans, the Chinese government attempted to characterize the meeting as ending with the more usual net of Chinese diplomacy.
The Trump administration has been described as the troublesome outlier.
Subsequently, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported: The delegation pointed out that in recent years, the previous US administration had gone against the trend of the time and carried out policies very mistaken anti-Chinese policies, which have seriously damaged Chinese interests and China. Relations with the United States.
Wang and Yang appeared to be trying to turn what, for Beijing’s purposes, was the lemon of a meeting into public relations lemonade.
The two sides agreed to follow the spirit of the Xi-Biden telephone conversation on February 11 to maintain dialogue and communication, conduct mutually beneficial cooperation, avoid misunderstandings and errors in judgment, prevent conflict and confrontation, and promote healthy and steady development of China and the United States. relationships, according to their statement.
That the Chinese side behaving rudely shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Wang and Yang had shared their intimidation intentions in the weeks leading up to the meeting. They were expressing Beijing’s anger that Biden’s team had so far refused to repudiate the Trump administration’s historic challenge to China’s hostile anti-Western policies.
What the Chinese diplomatic team apparently did not expect is that the Americans would carry resistance in face-to-face talks, where harsh rhetoric has traditionally only come from the Chinese side of the table.
Blinken-Sullivan’s public refusal to back down has clearly caught hard-line negotiators off guard and puzzled those in the foreign policy establishment, such as Haass, who believe diplomatic politeness serves the national interests of the United States. better than outspokenness.
US officials seem to have learned a costly lesson from the Obama administration: this soothing Chinese rhetoric at high-level meetings does not ensure concrete positive action.
The blatant violation by China of the agreement negotiated by the United States for its withdrawal from the Philippine territory of Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island) and Xis flouting his direct promise to Obama not to militarize China’s illegal artificial islands in the South China Sea are vivid examples of the unreliability of the Chinese Communist Party and the credulity of the United States. Both engagements were hailed as US diplomatic successes at the time.
Beijing is resorting to deception and misinformation has been shown even in the arrangements for the meeting in Alaska. After pleading for high-level talks in the months following Bidens’ election, Wang and Yang found it necessary to state that they had been invited by the United States, to be treated rudely.
On big and petty issues, they regularly manifested their disregard for rules and commitments. The two minutes agreed upon for each speaker’s opening remarks were trashed by Wang’s 16 minutes waving his tongue and waving his fingers.
This time, Blinken didn’t blink. He asked the cameras to stay and proceeded with a factual, value-laden rebuttal of the signage that Haass and others deemed free.
Yet words matter as the Chinese side is well aware, and Blinken has made sure the world understands that this administration, like its immediate predecessor, will defend Western interests against Beijing’s aggressive behavior. Countries in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond must know that they are not alone.
The test of the firmness of the Biden administration will be in the follow-up and the presidents’ own willingness to support its diplomats.
Trump has too often undermined the progress made by former US Vice President Mike Pence, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other members of the national security team in establishing a new policy based on values towards China.
Biden’s first indication was positive. Asked the next day about his reaction to the meeting, he said he was very proud of his secretary of state.
It is important that he adhere to this approach and not allow his previous personal relationship with Xi I know him well and he knows me well to soften the lucid politics articulated by Blinken and Sullivan.
In this regard, it would be interesting to know the content and dynamics of the two-hour conversation between Biden-Xi and why his cooperative spirit was so touted by Wang and Yang before and after the Anchorage meeting as a guideline for American policy in the future. .
For example, did Biden apologize or dismiss his portrayal of Xi as a thug as campaign rhetoric? Or has he warned him to expect more of the same unless Beijing moderates its internal and external policies, anticipating Blinken-Sullivan’s harsh approach?
At his confirmation hearing and on several occasions since then, Blinken presented a long-term strategy towards China.
He said American politics would be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and antagonistic when it needs to be.
His direct dealings with Sullivan and his more recent ones with representatives of the Communist regime in Beijing must surely have made them realize that the default policy would be confrontation.
Even in the limited areas of alleged China-US cooperation, climate change, North Korea, non-proliferation and collaboration against the COVID-19 pandemic have gone from illusory to non-existent. Instead, Beijing has leveraged these existential dangers to bolster its own existential threat to the West.
In the first sign of the severity of the United States after Anchorage, the Biden administration has teamed up with European allies and security partners to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for serious human rights violations against Muslims Uyghurs. The action demonstrates its commitment to human rights and its dependence on multilateralism to achieve US policy goals.
If this is the Biden approach to foreign policy and national security, let the pace continue.
Joseph Bosco, who served as National Director for China in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, is a member of the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and a member of the Advisory Board of the Global Taiwan Institutes.
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