Biden Admin china Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence: More Futile Pacific Overtures

Nearly halfway through Biden’s term in office he finally met the Chinese president to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.
Then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden back in 2012, during a visit to Los Angeles by China’s Xi Jinping. (David Starkopf / Office of Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, Flickr,CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Patrick Lawrence / Consortium News

I’ve given up being amazed at how stupidly the Biden administration conducts its diplomacy with China and, by extension, Asia altogether. I spend my time now being amazed at how stupid these people assume the Chinese and other Asians to be.

Nearly halfway through his term in office — and let us hope there is not another after this one — the man from Scranton finally met Chinese President Xi Jinping Monday to discuss the single most important relationship between any two nations anywhere in the world.

This first face-to-face encounter since Joe Biden began his presidency comes after nearly two years of diplomatic drift during which the U.S. has escalated the threat of open conflict, incessantly provoked the Chinese on the Taiwan question and the administration’s bench of incompetents makes one mess after another. All the while Beijing has been consolidating an extensive range of ties with non–Western nations in the declared cause of a new world order.

I do not see that anything of moment got done when Biden and Xi met just prior to the Group of 20 session in Bali this week. A great deal could have been accomplished, of course, given the worsening state of the bilateral relationship, but Biden proved once again not up to it. He seems to have figured the Chinese side would be too stupid to notice that he and his administration are effectively paralyzed, a herd of deer caught in headlights. 

Our moment calls upon American statesmen and stateswomen to act imaginatively, creatively, even courageously in response to a new era and new geopolitical circumstances. But those sailing the American ship of state, from the president on down, have neither imagination nor creativity nor courage. All they can do is reiterate past positions while expecting the other side to respond differently.

This is what Xi got in Bali on Monday. Nothing more. Nothing has changed, nothing of consequence has moved forward.

It was easy enough to see this pointlessness coming, this remove from reality, as Biden and his people advertised the Bali summit last week. America proposes to “build a floor in the relationship,” officials declared. The object of the encounter was to “set expectations.” The two sides need to “draw red lines,” Biden said in a press conference last Wednesday, “and determine whether or not they” —China’s and Washington’s red lines — “conflict with one another. And if they do, how to resolve it and how to work it out.”

Exhausted Rhetoric

What in these various remarks is there to hold onto, what of constructive substance did the U.S. side propose to get done in Bali? It is all sponge, exhausted rhetoric, a continued commitment to avoid addressing the Sino–U.S. relationship seriously.

This is what I mean by paralysis. American officials have nothing to say when they speak across the Pacific, and therefore say nothing in the cotton-wool language of obfuscation. The diplomacy of no diplomacy, as I have previously called it.  

Straight talk — always cover a shortcoming by proclaiming it a strength — was another running theme in the run-up. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said at a presser last Thursday: “The president will get to sit in the same room with Xi Jinping, be direct and straightforward with him as he always is, and expect the same in return from Xi.” I love the “as he always is.”

And then the Big Guy, as Hunter Biden called his Pop when doling out the bribes during the latter’s vice-presidency, said: “I know Xi Jinping…. I’ve always had straightforward discussions with him….We have very little misunderstanding. We just got to figure out what the red lines are.”

All this seems to have been calculated to convey the impression that there is a set of new problems between Beijing and Washington and Biden has arrived to resolve them.

Say what? Refusing to put a floor in the Sino–American relationship has been the building block of U.S. policy since the Biden regime came to power in January 2021. China has since that day made its perfectly reasonable expectations clear and has drawn all the red lines it needs, only to see Washington ignore the expectations, the red lines and everything else the Chinese have had to say.

As to Biden the straight talker, this gets to be a clown act. Do he and his people think the Chinese do not know they are dealing with an habitual liar, having been on the receiving end of many of Biden’s falsehoods and elisions — notably, but not only, on the Taiwan question?

I’m not sure why any of this flimsy PR was necessary in the first place. At that press conference last Wednesday Biden asserted with evident righteousness that he would make “no fundamental concessions” to China on the Taiwan question. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…

Xi was forthright, as always, when Taiwan came up. “The Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests, the bedrock of the political foundation of China–U.S. relations and the first red line that must not be crossed in China–U.S. relations,” Xi said according to a Xinhua report. “Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese and China’s internal affair.”

It doesn’t get much clearer, does it? And Biden?

“Biden said he sought to assure Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan, which has for decades been to support both Beijing’s ‘One China’ stance and Taiwan’s military, had not changed,” Reuters reported from Nusa Dua, the Balinese town where the G–20 met Tuesday. “He said there was no need for a new Cold War.”

It doesn’t get much foggier. Biden has stated four times since taking office  that the U.S. will defend Taiwan militarily in the event of open conflict between the island and the mainland — a straight-ahead repudiation of Washington’s longstanding commitment to the One China principle. The U.S. now embarks on a major new program to increase military aid to Taiwan.

Two-Front Cold War

As to a new Cold War, we hear the same thing as regards Russia and the Ukraine conflict. It has been evident for many months that the U.S. is well along in waging a two-front Cold War, Ukraine and Taiwan its sharp forward edges. 

And then there is what the Chinese call the salami-slicing, a running series of small aggressions, none very large in itself, to inch away from One China toward de facto support for Taiwan’s independence. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s grandstanding visit to Taipei last summer is a case in point, even if it proved a very thick slice of salami.

In this latter connection, the ideologically obsessed Sullivan took it upon himself to announce before the Biden–Xi summit that the administration intended to brief Taiwan officials about what was said in the talks. This is two things: another incremental move toward legitimizing Taiwan’s standing as an independent state and, as the Chinese Foreign Ministry succinctly put it, an “egregious” violation of diplomatic protocol. 

It is impossible to imagine that Sullivan spoke without prior calculation. This is how Washington slices its salami.

China’s Patience

At this point you have to admire the Chinese side for their patience in the face of this tedium. They sit there, one diplomatic encounter after another, and listen courteously as Washington invites them not to believe what is right before their eyes.

Biden’s message to Xi, such as we can speak of one, is by now familiar. Let’s cooperate on non-threatening matters such as climate change, compete in the economic and technology spheres, and face off as adversaries on national security and geopolitical questions — the South China Sea, Taiwan, nuclear stockpiles and so on.

As noted previously in this space, Beijing has been clear from the Biden administration’s first days that it does not take this cake-and-eat-it talk the least bit seriously.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken tried this on a few months after Biden was inaugurated. Then Wendy Sherman, Blinken’s No. 2, tried it. Then John Kerry, as Biden’s top climate diplomat, tried it very briefly. All with the same result: a string of failures — some spectacular (Blinken and Sullivan in Alaska in March 2021), others “quiet disasters,” as Foreign Policy put it after Sherman’s talks in Tianjin a few months later.

Now Biden has just tried the same thing, with a notable assist from Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, who accompanied him to Bali.

As noted some weeks ago, the U.S. has just imposed a range of new restrictions on U.S. technology exports explicitly intended — see Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — to retard, if not block altogether, China’s development in high-technology sectors such as semiconductors. We have to assume this shameful act of industrial sabotage is what Biden and the policy cliques mean by competing on the economic side.

Here is Yellen, in an interview with The New York Times last Saturday, on the new sanctions, and we’ll have to forgive the non-sentence:

“I think stabilizing the relationship and trying to get it on a better footing while recognizing that we have a whole range of concerns, and we would like to address those…. They need to understand, for example, why we take actions. I know their concern, for example, about our policies of banning sales of advanced semiconductors. It’s important for us to explain why we’re doing things, how it’s delineated, that it’s not an attempt to completely paralyze China’s economy and stop its development.”

No, not completely, just critically and mostly.

In his post-summit remarks, Biden said he told Xi it was China’s responsibility to keep North Korea’s weapons programs in check and that if Beijing failed to do so the U.S. “would have to take certain actions that would be more defensive on our own behalf.” This is an altogether bizarre remark, but I detect a veiled intention in it — two, in fact.

One, by assigning China responsibility for Pyongyang’s conduct, ridiculous on the face of it, Joe “Diplomacy First” Biden is weaseling out of any renewed effort to open talks with the North: It is all on you, Mr. Xi.

Two, this position may be a screen — hard to say just yet—for what is already a major Pentagon program to increase the U.S. military presence in the western Pacific. The U.S. has used North Korea as an excuse in this way for many years, let us not forget.

I don’t know how quiet or noisy this disaster will prove, but I am certain of the disaster part. China agreed to reopen lines of communications on climate matters and other such questions, which it had closed in response to the Pelosi visit. It is not nothing, but it is barely more.

I do not know where in the proceedings this remark occurred, but I consider Xi had the last word:  

“History is the best textbook. We should take it as a mirror and let it guide the future…. A statesman should think about and know where to lead his country. He should also think about and know how to get along with other countries and the wider world.”

Excellent stuff. After half a millennium of the Atlantic world’s dominance, the non–West lectures the West. It tells us just what time it is on history’s clock.

—Research provided by Cara Marianna.


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Patrick Lawrence
Patrick Lawrence

Patrick Lawrence, a correspondent abroad for many years, chiefly for the International Herald Tribune, is a media critic, essayist, author and lecturer. His most recent book is Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. His web site is Patrick Lawrence. Support his work via his Patreon siteHis Twitter account, @thefloutist, has been permanently censored without explanation.

12 comments

  1. Brilliant piece Patrick thank you! Again we get nothing but propaganda in the mainstream media witness Xi’s beautiful snub of little boy Trudeau lecturing him on the proper conduct of statecraft, then dismissing him. The western media fawned over Trudeau’s inept response to someone who knows how to play the long game. You so correctly identify the stupidity of Biden, one wonders if this man had even studied or read anything other than the American mythology that passes for history. Once again no adults in the room other than the Asians who clearly see the west and its leaders as hypocrites, liars, and fools who cannot be trusted on the most basic forms of diplomacy. This hubris will cost the west a huge price. No leaders in any western state on the horizon who likely have any substance to deal with leaders who in the end will both outlast them and outwit them.

    1. In his past, Biden was not stupid. To get an idea of how far gone he was when he began his run for President, I watched some older videos of him during his long, long career in Washington DC. As recently as when he was Obama’s VP, he was well spoken, and could handle himself in an interview or debate. I don’t know the contents of his reading library, or what he took on his way to a law degree. One would think that includes a history class or two, especially back then when universities were still universities and not corporate training schools. He seemed quite capable of understanding corporate law and serving as the corporate senator from the corporate state of Delaware writing corporate law as committee chair.

      These days, I wouldn’t trust him to turn on the White House Christmas tree without a nurse close at hand. Hes just as likely to push the button that sends Major Kong in a nuclear bomber towards Russia.

  2. This is not the first time they have ‘met’. That only refers to in-person meetings, which in this age of Corporate-spread Covid and Video Conferences is a rather meaningless distinction.

    Of course, the Americans like this formulation, as they manage to forget the video conferences where Biden lied directly to Xi’s face. In the last one, he promised to respect the Nixon-Kissinger One China Principle, then the next week he was sending a nuclear aircraft carrier group armed with nuclear weapons as armed back-up to Nasty Nancy’s warmongering trip to Taiwan.

    I suspect at this point the Chinese reaction to anything Biden says is “yeah, right, whatever.”

    Within the Americans, there does not appear to be a Partner for Peace.

  3. The bankruptcy of the Eastern Elite. I hope the Chinese understand that not all Americans are as stupid as our Best & Brightest and I hope they have the patience and fortitude to wait for them to appear–the sooner the better for all.

    1. Terrific. Now let’s define who “them” are.

      Is it the neocons that put big points on the board for the “defense” industry, with purposeful demolitions in NYC and the Pentagon, in 2001…or the neoliberals who are currently warming up their bats in Ukraine?

      Third party?… That’s a little like asking a fish to climb a tree.

      The fastest path to prison for journalists and public servants these days is telling more detailed truth than is deemed acceptable…. Just ask Julian Assange, John Kiriakou, or the growing number of other conscientious whistleblowers who’ve stuck their necks out.

      The media is much more determined to inflame than to inform us in this well oiled duopoly, and it’ll be a goddamn miracle if America isn’t locked down or at civil war before this decade’s done.

  4. And one can’t help but wonder what Americas long game is now concerning the “yellow menace.” Is just some petty schoolboy bullshit about US no longer being the only bully on the playground? Or is it something more sinister, like trying to plant the seeds of new Cold War in order to distract the world from the fact that it’s getting a little warm out there in tv land? Or is it something as simple as a financial negotiation between a vendor and customer?
    The one thing however that is as obvious as the noses on our collective faces is that the US has been trying for over a decade to coax China into doing something stupid. So far, just like the Iranians, they have been smart enough not to take the bait.

    Isn’t it sad that the only thing that seems to be keeping the world from another war is the common sense and restraint of the Chinese.

  5. WHEN THE SHIP OF STATE LOSES POWER

    Since so much of what Biden says doesn’t make sense this is “as he always is.” As for straight talk, well yeah…he’s cis hetero, therefore everything he says is “straight.”

    About his advisors–of course they think everyone else is stupid. They’re The Best and the Brightest 2.0; a new but unimproved version of the same old arrogance that will produce the same great results as Vietnam.

    This captain and his ship of state are far above the rest of us in their fine wheelhouse, which is equipped with the most advanced instrumentation. Many charts can be seen, accurate in minute detail. Yet these people don’t seem to realize is the map is not the territory.

    Nor do they understand their importance doesn’t propel the ship. The engine room, if they think about it at all, is hot, dirty, and noisy. Something literally beneath them. So what if those oil encrusted workers don’t have adequate medical care? So what if the equipment there hasn’t been maintained properly in decades? Out of sight, out of mind.

    The lowly ship’s watchman might see an iceberg looming; so what? The ship is so big and mighty, the deck officers so superior, no berg could ever make an impact. They seldom consider what happens when all that stuff the important people ignore finally breaks down and the ship loses power. Anyway, they have access to exclusive lifeboats with the best of provisions.

    1. Song by Grateful Dead

      Went to see the captain
      Strangest I could find
      Laid my proposition down
      Laid it on the line
      I won’t slave for beggar’s pay
      Likewise gold and jewels
      But I would slave to learn the way
      To sink your ship of fools
      Ship of fools
      On a cruel sea
      Ship of fools
      Sail away from me
      It was later than I thought
      When I first believed you
      Now I cannot share your laughter
      Ship of fools
      Saw your first ship sink and drown
      From rockin’ of the boat
      And all that could not sink or swim
      Was just left there to float
      I won’t leave you drifting down
      But whoa, it makes me wild
      With 30 years upon my head
      To have you call me child
      Ship of fools
      On a cruel sea
      Ship of fools
      Sail away from me
      It was later than I thought
      When I first believed you
      Now I cannot share your laughter
      Ship of fools
      The bottles stand as empty
      As they were filled before
      Time that was in plenty
      But from that cup no more
      Though I could not caution all
      I still might warn a few
      Don’t lend your hand to raise no flag
      Atop no ship of fools
      Ship of fools
      On a cruel sea
      Ship of fools
      Sail away from me
      It was later than I thought
      When I first believed you
      Now I cannot share your laughter
      Ship of fools
      It was later than I thought
      When I first believed you
      Now I cannot share your laughter
      Ship of fools

  6. But, but, it was Covid that really prevented all the world from meeting not just Joe avoiding Xi. Besides after all the countless sanctions on China, Russia it is some what futile to meet. Without doubt, a frigid cold war is well under way and there are no off ramps. Looks like East is East and the twain shall not meet…. Until one or the other collapses.

  7. If Washington’s and Beijing’s red lines clash there can only be one outcome: war, world war. The leaderships are ignoring the prescient warnings of history.

    A free ebook: The Pattern Of History and Fate of Humanity

  8. I am completely and rather literally sickened by the eagerness to appease China displayed by Lawrence and commenters here.

    By all means, we must cringe away whenever China expresses displeasure at any hint of thwarting their hegemonic goals. And make no mistake, their goals *are* hegemonic.

    Taiwan? Of course Taiwan must be surrendered to the misnamed PRC. After all, how can the Taiwanese have any right to exist for their own benefit if the PRC says No? Their own desires and lives are as nothing in the face of the PRC’s greed and the spineless eagerness of the US to kaotao. How much more should we give away to China? How about Hawaii and the Pacific Territories? The West Coast? Not enough?

    The Chinese have long despised the US as a “paper tiger” for our empty bluster. And to our disgrace, they[re right.

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