March 22, 2021

US-China Talks

“Top U.S. and Chinese officials offered sharply different views of each other and the world [last] Thursday as the two sides met face-to-face for the first time since President Joe Biden took office… In unusually pointed public remarks for a staid diplomatic meeting, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi took aim at each other’s country’s policies at the start of two days of talks in Alaska.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is generally supportive of Blinken and Sullivan taking a hard stance against China’s abusive and anti-democratic practices.

“Biden came into office vowing to restore, as he put it, ‘diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.’ Obviously, as even he would probably admit, his administration will often fall short of those values…

“At the very least, though, the Biden team promised, and so far has delivered, a rhetorical contrast with Donald Trump, who rarely even pretended to care about democracy abroad, praised other countries’ human rights abuses, and openly admitted that he preferred dealing with dictators, ‘the tougher and meaner they are,’ to democratic leaders.”
Joshua Keating, Slate

“Last year, as it anticipated a win for Joe Biden in the U.S. election and then during the transition, China signaled that it wanted to effectively reset the relationship regarding cooperation on climate change and the pandemic. The Biden team saw these overtures for what they were: a trap to get the U.S. to pull back from competing with China in exchange for cooperation that would never really materialize…

“By skipping this step in favor of a strategy of competitive engagement—meeting with China but seeing it through the lens of competition—the Biden team not only saved time, but it flushed Beijing’s true intentions out into the open for the world to see. In his remarks, contrasting ‘Chinese-style democracy,’ as he called it, with ‘U.S.-style democracy,’ Yang implicitly acknowledged that the U.S.-China relationship is, and will continue to be, defined by a competition between different government systems: authoritarianism and liberal democracy.”
Thomas Wright, The Atlantic

“Who would disagree, as George Floyd’s killer goes on trial in Minnesota and Asian women are gunned down in Georgia, that ‘the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated,’ as Yang put it. Yet, last fall, Americans were able to organize and rally and vote, and we turned out one leader and installed another. I can endorse Yang’s criticism of U.S. human rights without being sent to prison for ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble.’ So I would say to Director Yang, you are right about America. If you are just as right about China, let Wang Bingzhang and Zhang Zhan and Joshua Wong out of prison. Let them speak their minds. Let your people organize and rally and vote.”
Fred Hiatt, Washington Post

Critics of the Biden team’s performance note that “Soviet diplomats ran the same game plan in the 1950s, answering any American criticism of the Kremlin’s mass oppression and political prisons by citing lynchings in Alabama—and, though the two superpowers’ systems were far from morally equivalent, the reply stung and had an impact in many third-world countries with Black or brown majorities, where Washington and Moscow were competing for influence…

“Yet Blinken seemed startled and kept the reporters in the room while he issued a long rejoinder… In the weeks leading up to this trip, Blinken and other officials had publicly said that they would be meeting with the Chinese from ‘a position of strength’—always a mistake, as it seems designed to provoke and also conveys an impression of weakness, as those truly occupying a position of strength generally don’t feel compelled to say they do. It might have been better if Blinken had replied to Yang’s initial fusillade with a terse, witty sentence or two… and then moved on to the behind-doors session.”
Fred Kaplan, Slate

“Now that each government has had its say, the United States should take the high ground and find ways to reduce tensions, even if those can partly be blamed on China’s recent actions. One way forward would be to reverse some of the Trump administration’s burn-the-bridges measures, like its ending academic exchanges, expelling Chinese journalists and closing consulates… Modest moves might seem less decisive than acting tough, but they are what, in the end, makes realpolitik real.”
Ian Johnson, New York Times

From the Right

The right is generally critical of Blinken and Sullivan, arguing that they did not go far enough in defending American values.

The right is generally critical of Blinken and Sullivan, arguing that they did not go far enough in defending American values.

“To lend any credence to the notion that there is any human-rights equivalency between the United States and Russia or China is so hideously misinformed that it borders on mania. And Blinken’s half-hearted pushback against his table-pounding Chinese interlocutor is a discouraging, albeit preliminary, sign that this mania has found its way into the American diplomatic corps…

Make no mistake: There is no equivalence. China has ruthlessly crushed democracy in Hong Kong. It has ethnically cleansed tens of thousands of minority Muslims in Xinjiang. It has herded them into reeducation camps, where they are forced to violate the tenets of their religion and are subsequently dispersed throughout the country to perform forced labor…

“If the United States is still the self-confident liberal democracy Blinken insists that it is, its representatives should have enough spine to defend this country’s virtues in a public forum.”
Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine

“What was Blinken’s response? It should have been to walk out, tell them [they] weren’t living in reality, and/or remind them they have actual concentration camps where they are putting Uighurs. Instead, the US’s top diplomat Blinken reportedly conceded that the U.S. ‘is not perfect.’ He basically let us be gored and said, ‘Thank you, may I have another?’”
Nick Arama, RedState

Some argue, “Although Blinken and Sullivan needed to raise these issues with their Chinese counterparts, doing so publicly at a joint press conference deeply insulted them and needlessly damaged US-China relations…

“President Trump didn’t much care for diplomatic niceties, but he knew from his career as a dealmaker how to conduct diplomacy with America’s adversaries. When he appeared before the cameras with officials such as Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un, Trump set a cooperative and optimistic tone. Trump also often bragged about his personal friendships with these leaders. The former president knew building trust through these personal relationships was part of what he called the ‘Art of the Deal’ to get these countries to the negotiating table and to strike deals with them.”
Fred Fleitz, Spectator USA

“In its first two months the Biden Administration has been strong in its rhetoric… Mr. Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan orchestrated a series of well-done meetings with Indo-Pacific allies in advance of the Anchorage meeting. They also struck a deal on financing U.S. troop deployments in South Korea…

“But the real challenge will be how well it responds to the aggressive designs of adversaries in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. The hard men in these capitals recall how they were able to advance when Mr. Biden’s liberal internationalists were last in power under Mr. Obama. Russia grabbed Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine and moved into Syria. China snatched islands for military bases in the South China Sea and stole U.S. secrets with impunity…

“This is a dangerous moment as the world’s rogue powers look to test the Biden Administration’s resolve. The Anchorage lecture is a warning to take seriously.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“These top CCP officials did not come to Anchorage with any intent of offering concessions… The purpose of the event for Beijing seems to have been to push arguments for its own authoritarian model and to trash the very concept of a U.S.-led liberal democratic order as a racist, belligerent system…

“But the outbursts likely also signaled Beijing’s frustration that the days of a more dovish U.S. approach to China are gone and not coming back anytime soon. ‘China had this illusion that the Biden administration would completely abandon the Trump administration’s China policy,’ said Miles Yu, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former adviser on China to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. ‘They didn’t see that in a major way, and that’s why they blew up [in Alaska]. It’s an act of desperation.’”
Jimmy Quinn, National Review

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