United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded his two-day trip to Beijing. Based on post-meeting readouts and reports, there was little breakthrough. Beijing took full advantage of the opportunity to humiliate Blinken and the United States from the beginning to the end.
Blinken was supposed to visit Beijing in early February. He postponed his trip after Americans spotted a Chinese spy balloon floating in the sky, which sparked public fury. But since the spy balloon incident, the CCP has done little to improve the Sino-U.S. relationship. The senior leadership of the Chinese military refused to pick up their U.S. counterpart’s phone calls or requests for meetings. Instead, the People’s Liberation Army’s fighter jets and warships conducted several aggressive maneuvers near a U.S. Navy surveillance plane and a destroyer over the South China Sea, endangering all parties involved. Yet the Chinese defense minister justified the PLA’s provocative actions with inflammatory remarks, warning the U.S. to “mind your own business.”
Meanwhile, U.S. media discovered the Chinese spy balloon shot down by the U.S. military in February was not some kind of low-tech “silly balloon,” as President Biden claimed. According to NBC News, the spy balloon “was able to gather intelligence from several sensitive American military sites. … China was able to control the balloon so it could make multiple passes over some of the sites (at times flying figure eight formations) and transmit the information it collected back to Beijing in real time…”
Last week, the American public also learned that China is going to establish an electronic eavesdropping facility in Cuba, which “would allow Chinese intelligence services to scoop up electronic communications throughout the southeastern U.S., where many military bases are located, and monitor U.S. ship traffic.”
These are all troubling signs that the CCP is determined to make Americans feel unsafe in our own backyard.
But despite Beijing’s provocative words and behaviors, Biden decided that engagement with Beijing without any set preconditions is what is needed now. In return, Beijing has treated the Biden administration’s olive branch as an incentive to behave even more antagonistically.
Before Blinken began his trip, he received a strongly worded rebuke from China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who blamed the U.S. for the two nations’ worsening relationship and told Blinken to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs …” China’s foreign ministry spokesman followed up, saying “the US should not have the illusion of dealing with China from a position of strength.”
After Blinken touched down in Beijing, the CCP humiliated him — and, consequently, the U.S. — in optics and language. Every senior Chinese official Blinken met has put the onus on the U.S. to “reverse the downward spiral” in Sino-U.S. relations. To snub the U.S. diplomat further, the CCP’s leader, Xi Jinping, met with U.S. businessman Bill Gates before Blinken.
Blinken’s much-anticipated meeting with Xi lasted only about half an hour, and the optics were terrible. Like an emperor receiving a representative from a tributary state, Xi waited for Blinken to walk toward him. The handshake image between the two showed Xi standing tall and looking arrogant while Blinken was in an awkward, almost half-bow position.
During their meeting, Xi repeated his subordinate’s accusations that the U.S. was solely responsible for the deterioration of relations between the two countries, and he lectured Blinken to “make more positive contributions to stabilize U.S.-China relations,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
The Biden administration wants us to believe that optics with the CCP don’t matter. Instead, they tell us what’s said behind the scene really counts. But how can the U.S. maintain the confidence of our allies and its role as the leader of the free world when our officials are consistently being humiliated and scolded by CCP officials so publicly?
Blinken claimed his trip to China had made “progress,” but there were no real breakthroughs. Although Beijing agreed to resume some high-level exchanges (Beijing needs the U.S. market to rescue China’s struggling economy), it rejected the Biden administration’s request to establish a military communication channel between the two nations to address issues such as those dangerous close encounters near the Taiwan Strait. It’s unclear whether Blinken even mentioned the Chinese spy balloon incident.
Meanwhile, Chinese state-run media gleefully pointed out that Blinken’s recent declaration — “We [the U.S.] don’t support the independence of Taiwan” — was a sign of “move[ment] toward China’s position.” Of course, the Chinese media conveniently neglected to mention that Biden has repeatedly committed the U.S. military to Taiwan’s defense.
The Biden administration and its supporters insist that engagement with Beijing is always a good thing, even when it generates no meaningful result. Such a belief demonstrates a willful ignorance of the CCP and historical evidence. The CCP usually demands concessions from the other side before it even agrees to engage. Often, party representatives engage solely to score public relations points with domestic and international audiences.
Sometimes the party manipulates engagement to buy the time it needs to achieve its real objective. For example, the CCP used its “peace talks” with the Nationalist Party in 1945 to buy time to build up the CCP’s military strength before launching a full-throated civil war.
The West’s more than three decades of engagement with China have neither changed the CCP’s behavior nor have they made China democratic and free. Instead, the CCP has used these engagements to accumulate impressive economic and military resources. Now the emboldened Xi is seeking to rewrite the world order to his liking. To the CCP, engagement with anyone is always a “zero-sum” game that one party wins. Or, as Heritage China expert Dean Chen famously said, a “‘win-win’ deal for China means China ‘winning twice.’”
In a WSJ op-ed, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., criticized the Biden administration’s détente with Beijing as nothing more than reviving a zombie engagement policy that has failed before. He quoted Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn who once said: “The Communist leaders respect only firmness and have contempt for persons who continually give in to them.”
Unfortunately, the Biden administration continues to ignore history and is unwilling to learn.