Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media following U.S.-China talks on March 19 in Anchorage, Alaska.
Pool / Reuters
It was a tongue whip given by a senior Chinese official to senior officials in the Biden administration at their first meeting last week in Anchorage. This is the new reality in US-China relations as adversaries try to take advantage of President Biden like Barack Obama.
The two sides had agreed to make an opening speech of two minutes each. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was brief and hospitable, though he said the US was “deeply concerned about actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States and economic coercion against our allies. Each of these actions threatens the rules-based order that ensures global stability. “
China’s director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, Yang Jiechi, then went on a 20-minute tear (including translation) about the superiority of “Chinese-style democracy” and the sins of America. The latter included a reference to Black Lives Matter, human rights issues and that the US “has exercised longstanding jurisdiction and repression and overwhelmed national security through the use of force or financial hegemony”.
Mr. Yang added, “We believe it is important for the United States to change its own image and not promote its own democracy in the rest of the world. Indeed, many people in the United States have little faith in United States democracy. “As we have already noticed, the Chinese like to repeat the lively US media criticism of America.
Mr. Blinken replied that the US “recognizes our imperfections, recognizes that we are not perfect, we make mistakes, we have reversals, we take steps back,” but then make progress again. This is true enough, but unnecessarily defensive after a foreigner’s public assault on US interests and values.
This is just a meeting, but it set the tone for the world’s most important bilateral relations. Word got around that the private exchanges from the Chinese side were just as tough as the public statements. The Chinese make it clear that, after the Trump years, Beijing wants a return to the policies of Obama adapting to China’s global progress.
This means weak objections to China’s cyber and intellectual property theft. It means ending US policies to build an alliance of democracies in Asia that will counter Chinese aggression. Most importantly, it means ending criticism or sanctions against China for violating its Hong Kong treaty with Great Britain, threatening an invasion of Taiwan, or imprisoning Uighers in re-education camps in Xinjiang.
For the first two months, the Biden administration was strong in its rhetoric on all of these issues. Mr. Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan organized a series of well-done meetings with Indo-Pacific allies prior to the Anchorage meeting. They also reached an agreement to fund the deployment of US troops in South Korea.
The real challenge, however, will be how well it responds to aggressive drafts from opponents in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran. The tough men in these capitals remember how they got on when Mr Biden’s liberal internationalists were last in power under Mr Obama. Russia conquered Crimea, invaded eastern Ukraine and moved to Syria. China grabbed islands for military bases in the South China Sea and stole US secrets with impunity. Iran spread terrorism through proxy across the Middle East and berated John Kerry for the nuclear deal.
These regional powers want to see if this new US administration is Obama II. The renewed promotion of Tehran for a return to the flawed 2015 nuclear deal is a sign of weakness.
I will certainly do something against US interests to respond to Mr Biden’s positive response last week to the question of whether the Russian is a “murderer”.
The biggest test will be China, increasingly confident it has the strategic advantage over a declining America. If you don’t believe this, read Mr. Yang’s comments in Anchorage. The thinking of the powers that be in Beijing today is not dissimilar to that of the Soviet Union in the 1970s, when American decline was in vogue and the communists sought to advance around the world. Besides China, it has far more economic strength today.
The future of Taiwan could be the greatest challenge. As the site of global semiconductor manufacturing, the island is vital to both US economic interests and as a democratic ally. Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that retaking Taiwan is a priority and that the Chinese military is building a force that is capable of a swift invasion. Mr. Xi will seek to trade promises about climate change for US approval of Taiwan.
This is a dangerous moment as the rogue powers of the world try to test the resolve of the Biden government. The Anchorage Lecture is a warning to be taken seriously.
Journal Editorial Report: A Radical Way to Adopt the Progressive Agenda. Image: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Copyright © 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Published in the print edition on March 22, 2021.