The Chinese were right to remain skeptical after the Blinken visit to Beijing. The short version:
Literally took 24 hours for insults to start again 🙄
What's the point of sending Blinken to Beijing to cool things down if you're going to insult Xi literally the day after? That's frankly beyond me… 🤷♂️ https://t.co/bLCsK8qt5D
— Arnaud Bertrand (@RnaudBertrand) June 21, 2023
Even though Blinken emerged from his many hours of meetings looking beaten up, he still had enough gumption left in him to have his short talk with Xi Jinpeng labeled as “candid”. Nevertheless, Blinken appeared to offer a meaningful concession to China by the appearance of firming up its language on the status of Taiwan in a China-favoring direction, going from the old formula of empty reaffirmations of the one-China policy to saying at a press conference, “We do not support Taiwan independence.”
Moon of Alabama cited an AlJazeera story that picked up a more telling statement, that the US had also revised its Taiwan fact sheet…on May 28, before the Beijing meeting. But the AlJazeera piece stressed that despite the appearance of some verbal flip-flopping, US policy had not changed. Hence the extremely strong words to Blinken.
As we said, everyone tried to put the best possible face on these meetings, even thought there was as close to nada as you could get in the way of concrete next steps. China did not agree to the US key demand of reopening military channels of communication because the US is pig-headedly refusing to drop sanctions on China’s defense chief Li Shangfu.
English language house organ Global Times, in articles after the Blinken meeting with foreign minister Qin Gang and then the meetings with Wang Yi and Xi, stressed that what would matter was US actions. That’s hardly a surprising position given recent history, as summarized in Responsible Statecraft:
One recurring problem in U.S.-Chinese relations is that China perceives a wide gap between what the U.S. says it wants from the relationship and what it does. Washington professes to value the status quo, but it takes actions vis-à-vis Taiwan that seem to erode it. The U.S. and its allies claim that they don’t seek to harm the Chinese economy while the U.S. implements export controls that are clearly designed to kneecap China’s technology sector.
The administration then says that it wants to stabilize relations, but then it turns around and produces a communique with its G-7 partners that attacks China in the sharpest terms and faults China for coercive behavior that the U.S. and its allies also engage in.
It is natural that the Chinese government sees U.S. policy as an effort to contain and “suppress” China, because that is what the U.S. has been seeking to do. Under these conditions, repairing ties becomes much more challenging if it is even possible.
The Biden administration frequently likes to pose as being open to diplomacy with other states while putting the burden on the other state to take the initiative….
This creates the impression here at home that the administration is the reasonable party willing to talk while making no effort that might involve politically risky concessions. Diplomatic outreach is rarely successful without sustained effort and at least some risk-taking, so it is no surprise that this approach has been fruitless in every case.
The administration is also very stubborn in its refusal to offer any sanctions relief, no matter how minor, to facilitate diplomatic progress. As they see it, sanctions relief should only be granted after the other side yields. The trouble is that the other side just digs in its heels and refuses to budge, and the administration refuses to show the sort of flexibility that might end the impasse. The administration can blame the other government for the lack of progress, but the reality is that the U.S. chooses stalled diplomacy over making any goodwill gestures that might lead to reciprocal moves.
Alexander Mercouris highlighted a key point in his presentation yesterday, that that China explicitly and repeatedly rejected the US approach of what he called going a la carte with China, cooperating where it suited the US, being confrontational elsewhere. Yet as Mercouris pointed out, you can still infer from US readouts that the US has not dropped that stance either. For instance, from the State Department on the Blinken-Qin discussion:
The Secretary raised a number of issues of concern, as well as opportunities to explore cooperation on shared transnational issues with the PRC where our interests align.
A new article in Global Times calls out another point we had flagged in our earlier post, that the US insisting in its Qin readout and presumably even more so in the meeting, that it was going to uphold the “rules-based order” as in US hegemony. From Global Times today:
A statement on Sunday by a US State Department spokesperson said that Blinken said the US will “work with its allies and partners to advance our vision for a world that is free, open, and upholds the rules-based international order.”
Yang [Tao, director-general of the Department of North American and Oceanian Affairs of the Chinese Foreign Ministry,] said that the original intention of President Xi Jinping in advocating a community with a shared future for mankind is to maximize international solidarity and cooperation to jointly address global challenges.
“China is the first country to sign the UN Charter. It is the creator, defender and beneficiary of the current international order. Why should China change the existing international order?” said Yang.
“Some people always talk about the ‘rules-based international order.’ What rules are they based on? If it is the UN Charter, China has no problem. If it is the rules formulated by a handful of countries, China, as well as many other countries, will find it difficult to agree,” Yang said.
Not surprisingly, the Financial Times and other outlets report that China is hopping mad about this snub. From the pink paper:
China has responded with outrage after US president Joe Biden called his counterpart Xi Jinping a “dictator”, in a row that threatens to derail nascent attempts to reach a truce in their deteriorating relationship.
China’s foreign ministry described as “extremely absurd and irresponsible” the remarks from Biden — which came just a day after US secretary of state Antony Blinken visited the Chinese leader in Beijing in a bid to restore dialogue.
The comments “seriously violate basic facts, diplomatic protocols and China’s political dignity”, China’s foreign ministry said.
The US president told a campaign fundraising gathering in California on Tuesday evening that Xi had not known about an alleged spy balloon that flew over the US early this year. The incident sparked acrimony and sent bilateral ties plunging to an all-time low.
“That’s what’s a great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened,” Biden told the gathering for 130 guests in a private home.
The timing of the comments is expected to anger Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, who secured an unprecedented third five-year term in office in March.
I wouldn’t bet on the minimal commitments from the meetings, like a return to pre-zero Covid levels of passenger flights, being implemented.
The worst is that this insult does not simply demonstrate that the US is incapable of diplomacy. It shows we are so interested in dominance that we’ve lost sight of what our interests our. So institutionally, we are engaging in the same sort of self-destructive behavior that Trump practices personally. Perhaps that is the real reason Democrats hate him. Despite decorating in gold, the essence of his behavior is not all that different than theirs.