Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman went to China for a meeting with State Councilor Wang Yi on July 26. The meeting was declared a stalemate by the Chinese side before the end of negotiations. It was billed as a high-level attempt to avoid conflict, after a disastrous U.S.-China meeting in Alaska in March, but what emerged were disappointing “combative statements” from both sides, according to Reuters.
China wrongly blamed the United States for the stymied talks, saying Washington had created an “imaginary enemy” and confrontational tone. Of course, the United States should confront an enemy of democracy such as China, which aggressively promotes its totalitarian system and influence globally. Not doing so would be a dereliction of duty to protect the American people from an expansionist dictatorship.
Sherman’s delegation rightly noted China’s violation of international law, including the abrogation of its Hong Kong treaty with Britain, and Beijing’s heinous and illegal genocide against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Tibet was mentioned, but apparently, the genocide against Falun Gong, recognized by scholars since at least 2018, was again ignored.
Faced with an embarrassing breakdown in talks, American officials, speaking anonymously to reporters, hastened to add that behind closed doors the dialogue was more cordial. They also sought to give the impression of American aloofness. “I think it’d be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China’s cooperation,” one told reporters, in reference to issues such as North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and climate change.
Another said, “It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to … take the next step.” Of course, the Biden administration seeks to appear in control, even when it is not. As recently as 2019, Biden denied that China was a threat at all.
At the talks, Wang demanded the removal of Washington’s unilateral tariffs and sanctions, not acknowledging that the tariffs are largely justified, on a legal level, by economic damages suffered by the United States due to China’s actions, including the theft of up to $600 billion annually in intellectual property theft. Wang said, “When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again.” His Foreign Ministry signaled there might be preconditions for cooperation in the future.
China has irresponsibly sought to use talks over climate change to obtain unrelated concessions, thereby engaging in what I would call ‘climate brinkmanship.’ The world’s biggest polluter uses its emissions to threaten the United States and allies into concessions on issues ranging from human rights to trade.
Blinken’s climate representative, John Kerry, has rightly sought to delink climate negotiations from other issues. But as China clearly doesn’t care about the environment to the requisite degree, taxes on its pollution should be imposed by the United States in a manner similar to the European approach. Europe has increased trade barriers to cheap Chinese imports that take advantage of miserably low environmental regulations. This also helps avoid “carbon leakage,” in which U.S. and European industries flee strong environmental regulations to produce more cheaply in China.
The most recent China talks were held in Tianjin, a northern Chinese port about 70 miles from Beijing. Tianjin seems an odd place to host talks with a country, the United States, with which one hopes to decrease tensions. Beijing is a stickler for protocol, and frequently seeks to decenter American officials, up to and including the airport snub of President Barack Obama in 2016, and the attempted wrestling of the “nuclear football” from President Donald Trump’s entourage in 2017. Beijing’s choice of Tianjin for the talks might have been a similar attempt at a snub.
When Sherman returned to Washington, one can’t imagine how she might have reported back to President Biden with anything more optimistic than a shrug of resignation. It could have been a good deal worse. Such is likely the future limit of diplomatic achievement from talks with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), until we augment the diplomat’s velvet glove with something a bit sturdier.
After the meeting, Reuters described Washington-Beijing relations as “at a standstill.” Reuters noted that “the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.”
The repeated failure of American diplomats to obtain moderation from China will force our differences with the country into economic sanctions, the rallying of allies, and the military arena. Already, the United States is increasing military training in the region, and considering U.S. interdiction of oil shipments from Iran to China.
China’s oil supply is a major vulnerability as the country does not have easily extractable reserves. When the United States blocked oil shipments to Japan during World War II, however, Japan’s 1942 attack on Pearl Harbor was the result.
U.S.-China relations are thus increasingly dangerous and unpredictable, not least due to technological advances like hypersonic missiles and drone swarms.
Biden is rightly seeking regional stabilization in Asia by strengthening an emerging multilateral alliance among the United States, Japan, India, and Australia, called the Quad, as well as encouraging key European allies like Britain and France, to demonstrate commitment by sending warships.
The President is seeking to host the leaders of the Quad in multilateral talks this year. Let’s hope they proceed more smoothly and satisfactorily than Ms. Sherman’s attempts in Tianjin. And, let’s hope that Britain and France send representatives as well.
Anders Corr has a bachelor’s/master’s in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He’s a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. He authored “The Concentration of Power” (forthcoming in 2021) and “No Trespassing,” and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.