Are Biden's policies towards China working?

As far as President Biden and his team are concerned, his policies towards China are working swimmingly. Yeah, I’m not buying it, either.

‘Beijing Is on the Back Foot’ — Really?

The default setting of the messaging from the Biden administration is, “Everything we’re doing is going great, there is no valid criticism of our past or current decisions, and any evidence to the contrary is misinformation or disinformation.”

The administration and its allies would like the public to believe that shooting down the Chinese spy balloon after it had crossed the continent represented a great counterintelligence success, and that was such a great success that it is a good idea to “continue to engage with China,” as President Biden put it in his remarks last week. As Vice President Harris declared before traveling to the Munich Security Conference, “The recent U.S. downing of a Chinese surveillance balloon over American waters should not have an impact on diplomatic relations between the two global superpowers.”

The balloon was a big enough threat for the Biden administration to boast about how it decisively responded to the floating menace, but not a big enough threat that the administration should reevaluate or alter any of its ongoing diplomacy with Beijing. That’s a really narrow range; what luck for the Biden administration that it managed to fit right in there!

The Center for a New American Security was another one of those think tanks that functioned as a Biden administration-in-waiting, with no less than twelve of its staffers taking jobs in the new administration in early 2021 (including director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, CIA deputy director David Cohen, undersecretary of state for political affairs Victoria Nuland, and undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl). When you want to get a sense of the thinking of the foreign-policy team in this administration, CNAS is a good place to look.

A week ago, Richard Fontaine, the organization’s CEO, declared the balloon shootdown was A) a remarkable success and B) a sign that it is safe for the Biden team to resume something akin to normal diplomacy with Beijing: “Thanks to its balloon stunt, Beijing is on the back foot in Washington and elsewhere. Sec. Blinken should revive his visit to Beijing and now engage with China’s leaders from a position of strength. Couple diplomacy with power.”

Increasingly ubiquitous and must-read China hawk Elbridge Colby saw the opposite: “The fact that they sailed a balloon all the way over America doesn’t make China look weak. It’s a brazen move. Now we’re supposed to sweep it under the rug for the delusion of ‘cooperating while competing’?”

Is China on its back foot after the spy-balloon incident? Some accounts of last week’s Munich Security Conference conclude Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, “misread the room” and “went on the offensive against Washington, warning (in a thinly veiled reference to the Biden administration) that ‘some forces’ were keen for the [Russia-Ukraine] war to drag on and dismissing the White House response to the suspected Chinese surveillance balloon as ‘hysterical.’”

Here’s how the Chinese Foreign Ministry summarized the positions and statements of Wang Yi at the conference in Munich:

Wang Yi set forth China’s strong position on the so-called “balloon incident” and pointed out that what the US side has done was apparently an abuse of the use of force and violation of customary international practice and the International Civil Aviation Covenant. China deplores it and strongly protests it. It is the US who is in fact the number one country in terms of surveillance, whose high-altitude balloons illegally flew over China multiple times. The US is in no position to smear China. What the US needs to do is demonstrate sincerity, and acknowledge and resolve the damage its abuse of force has done to China-US relations. If the US side continues to fuss over, dramatize and escalate the unintended and isolated incident, it should not expect the Chinese side to flinch. The US side should be prepared to bear all consequence arising from an escalation.

Wang Yi met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Munich, and Blinken said that China’s top diplomat refused to apologize for the balloon. Additionally, Blinken told ABC News’ This Week that, “We have information that gives us concern that they are considering providing lethal support to Russia in the war against Ukraine.”

Does that sound like a regime that is contrite, conciliatory, and cooperative to you? Does that sound like a government that is “on its back foot” and grappling with unexpected consequences, uncertainty, or doubt? Or does that sound like a foreign government that is hostile, bellicose, and that has little or no fear of taking actions that antagonize the U.S.?

At the Washington Post, Josh Rogin lays out how the Biden administration bent over backward to downplay the significance of the balloon.

President Biden barely mentioned it in his State of the Union address. Vice President Harris said before arriving in Germany that she didn’t think it would negatively affect U.S.-China relations. (She was wrong.) On Thursday, Biden said that he wanted to talk to President Xi Jinping directly. On Friday, a senior Pentagon official told the New York Times that Xi’s military likely hid the spy balloon from him, seeming to absolve Xi of direct responsibility.

If shooting down the balloon put America in a “position of strength,” why is the Biden team so eager for everyone to move on and forget about it?

In the latest issue of NR’s print magazine, former assistant secretary of state John Hillen lays out the speech an American president ought to give regarding the rising challenge and threat of China. It begins, “My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about the great foreign-policy challenge of our time — our strategy to contend with an increasingly ambitious and bellicose China. . . . I am clear-eyed about the expansionist, authoritarian, and repressive nature of the Chinese Communist regime, which has acted in so much bad faith and aggression while openly announcing grand designs to limit or decrease American power. Opposing it will require unquestioned strength and resolve on our part.”

Could you ever see Biden beginning a speech like that? It’s hard to imagine him doing so. Inherent in those declarations is a recognition that our policies aren’t working or aren’t working well enough, that time is not necessarily on our side, that the consequences of Chinese aggression will affect the lives of the average American, and that things will not necessarily turn out okay.

Instead, look at what Biden said about China in the State of the Union address: “Today, we’re in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or anyone else in the world. Anyone else in the world. And I’m committed — I’m committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world. But make no mistake about it: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”

Everything’s going fine, America! No need to worry!

No doubt, some readers are chanting, “Ten percent for the big guy!” right about now, embracing the idea that Biden has been bribed into some sort of submission to Beijing.

But a simpler and less conspiratorial explanation is that Biden is 80 years old, his views on China were shaped by the painfully naïve U.S. consensus from the 1990s and 2000, and he simply can’t let go of the hope that some combination of concessions and incentives will bring back that old, nicer “partner in prosperity” version of China that he used to know.

Biden was a big advocate of establishing closer trade ties to China, welcoming “the emergence of a prosperous, integrated China on the global stage, because we expect this is going to be a China that plays by the rules,” as he put it during a trip to China in 2001. Welcoming Chinese visitors as vice president in 2011, Biden declared that, “As a young member of a Foreign Relations Committee, I wrote and I said and I believed then what I believe now: That a rising China is a positive, positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large.”

Biden even began his most recent president campaign with assertions such as, “They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us,” and “No other nation can catch us, including China. I got criticized for saying that.”

Now, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield has declared, “We also have to be clear that if there are any thoughts and efforts by the Chinese and others to provide lethal support to the Russians in their brutal attack against Ukraine, that that is unacceptable. That would be a red line.”

If you have a memory that goes back a decade or so, the term “red line” probably makes you cringe. Because back on August 20, 2012, President Obama declared that:

We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. . . . We have communicated in no uncertain terms with every player in the region that that’s a red line for us and that there would be enormous consequences if we start seeing movement on the chemical weapons front or the use of chemical weapons.

And then Assad used chemical weapons, and the U.S. did next to nothing. The red line had been a bluff, and the Syrian regime called our bluff.

What are the consequences for China sending Russia “lethal support”?

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