AMAC Exclusive – By Neil Banerji
While President Joe Biden has taken a publicly hardline stance on competition with China, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing last week made clear that the substance of the administration’s policy is fundamentally about appeasing President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
Last Wednesday, Biden called Xi a “dictator” during a campaign event in California, sparking applause from the Democrat donors and stern condemnation from Beijing. The comment marked just the latest incident of the U.S. president antagonizing Chinese leaders.
But just days before Biden’s dictator comment, Blinken was busy kowtowing to the Chinese president, saying, “the U.S. does not support Taiwan independence.” Far from the combative tone employed by Biden, Blinken expressed “hope and expectation” for “better communications, better engagement going forward” following his meeting with Xi and other top Chinese officials.
Blinken’s comments suggest that Biden’s rhetorical bluster in public belies a much more conciliatory approach being pursued by Blinken and other foreign policy officials in private – a disconnect that the administration has failed to explain.
Blinken’s trip to China was originally scheduled for earlier this year, but was postponed following the Chinese spy balloon incident that further inflamed tensions. Before leaving for Beijing, Blinken said the spy balloon “chapter should be closed,” despite lingering questions about just how much sensitive information the balloon gathered on U.S. military installations.
In a telling sign, the Chinese government was apparently eager to meet with Blinken, with Xi saying, “I hope that, through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-U.S. relations.” Wang Yi, China’s highest-ranking diplomat, also stated that the U.S. government’s combative policy towards China was a result of a “misunderstanding.”
Following his visit, congressional Republicans blasted Blinken for failing to take a tougher stance toward China. Rep. Ashley Hinson (R-IA) called the China trip the latest stop in “the Biden administration’s world appeasement tour,” accusing Blinken of leaving Beijing “without any accountability for the CCP spy balloon, crossing our warship in the Taiwan Strait, or opening a police station on our soil.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), meanwhile, accused Blinken of “legitimizing” Xi’s “subversion of our sovereignty,” citing the sale of U.S. farmland to Chinese entities. “Why won’t this administration stand up to bullies and stand for freedom?” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked, while Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) quipped that Blinken “apparently went to China to kick off the Chinese Century.”
As several Republican lawmakers alluded to, Blinken’s statements smacked of appeasement – a strategy for dealing with authoritarian nations that has proved disastrous throughout history. Perhaps the most obvious such case was that of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s concession of the Sudetenland to Hitler in 1938 and his subsequent infamous declaration that there would be “peace for our time.” Although the Biden administration has not made any such massive concessions to China, Blinken’s rhetoric following his Beijing trip took on an uncomfortably deferential tone.
In this century, former Obama Secretary of State John Kerry’s appeasement of Iran also proved disastrous (although, thankfully, it did not precipitate a world war). In 2014, Kerry and Obama orchestrated a nuclear deal with Iran which continues to have a destabilizing effect throughout the Middle East. After former President Donald Trump left that deal in 2018, Blinken and Biden are attempting to follow in Kerry and Obama’s footsteps by re-instating it.
It may well be that Xi and other Chinese officials sense that they can pressure Blinken and Biden into the same failed appeasement strategy as Chamberlain and Kerry. Like them, Blinken seems convinced that diplomatic niceties can resolve conflicts that have been festering for decades – as if sitting down in a room with Xi Jinping and calling for “more open communication” will stop China from sending more spy balloons over the United States or nearly ramming its warships into American destroyers.
The disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the failure to dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine, and numerous other foreign policy fiascos have demonstrated to China and other American adversaries that Blinken and Biden can be pushed around. As Churchill understood when it came to Hitler, Ronald Reagan understood when it came to the Soviet Union, and Donald Trump understood when it came to Iran, North Korea, Russia, and China, strength is the only language that authoritarian leaders understand. Appeasement is a sign of weakness.
While Blinken’s public gestures may restore a veneer of normalcy to U.S.-China relations, it will likely only further embolden China to continue its aggressive actions throughout the world. Far from creating stability, history has shown that appeasement and groveling only increases the likelihood of future conflict.
Neil Banerji is a proud Las Vegas resident and former student at the University of Oxford. In his spare time, he enjoys reading Winston Churchill and Edmund Burke.