Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded his trip to Beijing in a meeting with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping on Monday that did little to improve Americans’ confidence in the Biden administration’s ability to manage U.S.-China relations.
Heading into the summit, the administration was hoping to reestablish communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries. Despite purportedly reaching an agreement on “some specific issues,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ultimately declined to meet that main request, placing the blame for the ongoing dispute on U.S. sanctions.
That failure wasn’t the only embarrassment for the Biden administration. As described by CNN’s Jim Sciutto, Xi used an “almost scolding tone” when addressing Blinken prior to their meeting, in which he stated “something along the lines of, ‘I hope you … and America will do more to improve the [Sino-American] relationship.'”
Xi was “clearly putting the onus on the U.S. and therefore implying it’s the U.S. that has been the problem,” Sciutto said.
The more notable aspect of Monday’s summit, however, came during a Blinken press conference following the meeting, in which the U.S. secretary of state effectively played footsie with the Chinese government. While addressing reporters, Blinken said: “One of the important things for me to do on this trip was to disabuse [the] Chinese … of the notion that we are seeking to economically contain them.”
“We’re not … I also noted to our — our hosts, that China’s broad economic success is also in our interest,” he added.
Blinken displayed similar weakness when asked a question about Taiwan, a major issue affecting U.S.-China relations. In his remarks, Blinken asserted the administration does “not support Taiwan independence” and emphasized that he “reiterated” that to Chinese leadership.
Blinken’s comments came days after President Joe Biden appeared to excuse the CCP’s flying of a spy balloon over the U.S. earlier this year. The balloon — which Biden allowed to float across the entire continental U.S. before ordering that it be shot down — reportedly gathered intel from “several sensitive American military sites” during its transit.
While speaking with reporters on Saturday, the president claimed he didn’t “think the [Chinese] leadership knew where [the balloon] was, knew what it was in it and what was going on.”
“I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional,” Biden said.
Why It Matters
Monday’s Blinken-Xi meeting presents two significant problems, the first of which pertains to Blinken’s comments on Taiwanese independence.
Taiwan — for all intents and purposes — is already an independent state. While it has not issued a “formal” declaration of independence, the island nation has all the characteristics of a sovereign country, including its own economy and political system. This notion has also been echoed by Taiwan’s political leadership, specifically Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.
While the United States’ “One China policy” acknowledges the People’s Republic of China is the sole government of China and the PRC’s position that Taiwan belongs to China, it does not recognize the PRC’s claims to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan. By publicly stating the U.S. does not recognize Taiwan’s independence, Blinken is not only undercutting views espoused by Taiwan’s leadership; he’s also giving credence to the CCP’s narrative that Taiwan is a rogue PRC territory.
The second and equally alarming takeaway from the summit pertains to the shifting dynamics of U.S.-China relations under Biden. Notice how in the lead-up to the meeting, it was U.S. leadership who was eager to mend ties with China after the spy balloon incident and not the other way around.
Yes, adversarial powers should engage in diplomatic outreach to avoid conflict with one another and create peace where possible. But exactly what action has the CCP taken in the past few months that makes Biden or Blinken believe they’re interested in negotiations? Was it the spy balloon incident? The Chinese military’s orchestrated fly-by of a U.S. surveillance aircraft in the South China Sea? Or the People’s Liberation Army Navy cutting off a U.S. destroyer in the Taiwan Strait?
Biden and company’s desire to maintain peace in the Indo-Pacific isn’t the issue. The problem is the administration’s repeated attempts to secure an agreement with the Chinese no matter how weak or desperate it makes them appear. Instead of waiting for China to come to the negotiating table, the situation is flipped to where the CCP is now allowed to dictate the terms for future diplomatic talks. It’s a dynamic that — unfortunately — plays to China’s benefit.