Can We Confront China Without Blowing up the World?

Yao Dawei/Xinhua via AP

There was an extraordinary public exchange between the U.S. and China before their high-level meetings in Alaska on Thursday. The Chinese dismissed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan as “condescending.” In diplomatic terms, it meant that China felt it didn’t have to listen to anything they said.


A U.S. representative anonymously told the media that China was “grandstanding,” which meant essentially the same thing as the Chinese characterization of U.S. officials.

In other words, before the meetings even started, both sides had determined not to hear what the other was saying.

In case you missed it, that’s a very big deal.


The typically dull prelude to diplomatic meetings spiraled quickly out of control in part because of mismatched expectations and because both sides delivered speeches meant just as much for their domestic audiences as for their counterparts.

The Biden administration wants to maintain a tough line on China, particularly on areas of sensitivity for Beijing, such as human rights, and is not likely to ease up with China hawks in Congress ready to criticize any sign of weakness. Meanwhile, Beijing is intent on signaling that it is not intimidated by the US or swayed by American claims to global leadership.

But Biden does indeed want to confront China — over human rights; over its increasing belligerence in the South China Sea; over its treatment of the Uighurs, Hong Kong, and Taiwan; and for its criminal reluctance to fully cooperate in the international community’s efforts to find the origin of the coronavirus.

China has warned that it will not accept any threats to its “national dignity.” Trump’s claims that China was covering up the origins of the pandemic — no matter how truthful — stung Beijing, unlike any other criticism. Trump attacked China’s “national dignity” which to the Communists in Beijing is the same as attacking their legitimacy.


They let the U.S. delegation know that in no uncertain terms.


In a long set of remarks, Yang made clear that China feels the US has no right to meddle in its “internal” affairs, claim a right to global leadership, or even to promote its vision for democracy and human rights, given the domestic controversy about the 2020 election and the injustices laid bare by US racial justice protests. “The US does not have the qualification to say it can speak from a position of strength,” foreign policy chief Yang Jiechi scoffed.

Pointing to the “intensity” and “vociferousness” of Yang’s rebuttal, Birch said, “it was probably meant to show China is not intimidated and it was a show of disrespect too — China is making clear that it’s not going to follow the rules.”

Blinken could have pointed out that the Uighurs can’t legally demonstrate against “injustices” and neither can citizens of Hong Kong, so China’s criticisms of racial protests ring hollow. It shows that papering over differences with the Chinese Communists isn’t good enough anymore. They must be confronted and exposed as the dangerous regime they already are. And that danger is likely to grow as Chinese self-confidence and the military buildup grows.

Does Biden have the gonads to go toe-to-toe with President Xi and defend American culture, American values? How can he do so when he doesn’t believe in them or, at least, in their superiority?


With Biden in the White House, we’ve already lost that argument. And with no confidence in American values, how can he stand up to the Chinese on any issue?

It’s an extraordinarily dangerous time for America and China. Short of surrendering, it’s an open question what exactly Joe Biden can do to keep the Communists at bay.

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