In his new book, “The China Nightmare: The Grand Ambitions of a Decaying State,” scholar Daniel Blumenthal makes a telling point about the Chinese dictatorship’s operational and strategic decisions: “China is not just driven by its own assessment of its strengths and weaknesses; it carefully calculates Washington’s power and will before acting.”
Blumenthal specifically addressed Chinese diplomacy under former President Hu Jintao, current President Xi Jinping’s predecessor. However, his point applies to China’s communist leaders since the mid-1980s and arguably since 1972, when then-President Richard Nixon met Mao Zedong.
Understand that Blumenthal sees communist China as a very vulnerable political entity. I tend to agree, at least as long as a self-assured and militarily adept United States has the will to oppose China’s dictators and provide classic, inspiring, pro-individual freedom U.S. leadership. (Unashamed plug: See the China chapter of my book “Cocktails From Hell.”)
Appropriate Shakespeare allusion: Inspirational American will—that’s the rub.
March 2021 exposed a serious rub: the well-calculated diplomatic and personal disdain senior Chinese officials displayed for President Biden’s administration.
The theatrics occurred at last week’s high-level U.S.-China talks. The talks—“face-losing debacle” describes the U.S. experience—took place on U.S. soil, in Anchorage, Alaska. So dub it the Alaska Ambush, a Chinese diplomatic and information warfare cocktail.
Ambush—isn’t that a tactic? A high-ranking Chinese Communist Party foreign policy official surprising a U.S. secretary of state indicates China seeks strategic advantages from the bashfest.
Blumenthal’s insight helps contextualize the incident. Opening remarks were supposed to be limited to two minutes. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken observed the agreement. Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi launched a 17-minute tirade damning America. The tirade included these choice examples. Yang said, “it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world.” Right—freedom is predatory. He reprised Cold War communist themes by asserting China opposes using force “to topple other regimes” and accused the United States of using violence to “massacre the people of other countries.” Remember, China is currently being accused of murdering Turkic Uyghurs in western China (yes, a genocide). At one point, Yang mentioned Black Lives Matter and alleged that “many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States.”
The fact that Yang’s harangue occurred on American soil with no American interruption may have added to the perceived “loss of American face” in some Asian audiences.
Yang’s rhetorical jabs certainly mocked the Biden administration’s fatuous slogan “America Is Back.”
“Back to what?” is a fair question. The Alaska Ambush nixes any Washington Post tout of a moral high ground, “soft power” Democratic diplomacy that deserves broad bipartisan support. The correct answer: The incident reveals a simultaneously naive and just-plain-dangerous return to Beltway foreign policy conventionalism.
Alas, Biden neo-conventionalism is now expressed and personified by Biden administration usual suspects who spent 2020 kowtowing to Black Lives Matter and Antifa street violence, insurrection, and identity politics cancel culture. They also leveraged Big Lies Told by Big Media, like The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which falsely claimed slavery was America’s foundational raison d’etre.
Perhaps that vile spew of America-hate and reframed Cold War communist disinformation helped defeat former President Donald Trump.
However, the Biden neo-conventionalists (yes, the new neo-cons) now occupy positions of power, where, presumably, they have the responsibility of defending America and Americans physically, economically and, yes, institutionally.
Recall Blumenthal’s point. China’s Alaska Ambush demonstrates how the neo-conventionalists’ election-year anti-American propaganda created a diplomatic and potentially economic vulnerability that China has decided to exploit.
The Russia-collusion hoax—involving senior FBI and CIA officials as well as senior political operatives of former President Obama’s administration—and Hunter Biden’s media-ignored Ukrainian and Chinese business activities also handcuff Biden neo-conventionalists who call for American unity. We don’t know if Beijing possesses blackmail leverage over Hunter Biden. That noted, his China-investment scandal haunts American diplomacy. The Alaska Ambush’s orchestrated slander and macho theatrics indicate Beijing believes it holds the diplomatic and information initiative. It bets frightened Asian and African nations will notice America’s feckless leadership.