Biden Cozies Up to China’s Xi While Allies Bemoan Lack of U.S. Leadership

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2022
by Ben Solis

AMAC Newsline – By Ben Solis

Standing in front of a background of palms heated by the 90-degree Balinese humidity on Sunday evening ahead of the start of the G20 conference, Joe Biden appeared full of zeal and energy hours before what some diplomats deemed the most crucial meeting of the year with Chinese President Xi Jinping. When Biden emerged from his three-hour meeting with Xi on Monday, he appeared almost jovial about the conversation that began with a friendly “good to see you.” The tone that Biden took, however, starkly contrasts with the dire situation in the Indo-Pacific as U.S. military leaders and allies fret over China’s increasingly aggressive posture.

Of principal concern for both the United States and China heading into the meeting was the status of Taiwan, with both sides ramping up their rhetoric in recent months. Following U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s trip to the island in August, Beijing launched a series of military exercises within Taiwanese waters and suspended most military cooperation with the United States.

Following the meeting, Xi Jinping said in a statement that Taiwan was a “red line” which must not be crossed. These comments come just weeks after Xi refused to renounce using force to reunify with Taiwan at the most recent Chinese Communist Party Congress, where Xi also effectively asserted himself as the indefinite leader of the country. For the rest of the world, Xi’s hostile stance toward Taiwan, along with China’s predatory lending practices and ongoing military build-up, is a sign that China is returning to the “might makes right” philosophy that characterized the rule of Mao Zedong.

Biden, however, thus far seems to have failed to grasp the threat that the United States and the rest of the world face from Communist China. Ahead of the meetings on Sunday evening, Biden claimed that China and the U.S. “have very little misunderstanding.” Following his conversation with Xi, Biden said there doesn’t appear to be any “imminent attempt” to invade Taiwan. The White House also reiterated that the official policy of the United States is support for Beijing’s “One China” policy and maintaining the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

But those comments are likely of little comfort to either U.S. military leaders or Western allies in Asia – including Taiwan – which have been warning for months about growing Chinese aggression in the region. On Saturday, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry reported 36 Chinese aircraft and 3 Chinese naval vessels near Taiwanese waters. A week earlier, Taiwan’s Defense Minister Joseph Wu said that the probability of a Chinese invasion has only heightened in recent months, and Xi’s statements about wanting to maintain the status quo “might not be as realistic as we hope.”

Just to the north, leaders in Tokyo have doubled Japan’s defense budget while keeping an anxious watch as China threatens Taiwan. According to public polling, more than 90 percent of Japanese citizens believe Japan needs a contingency plan if China invades Taiwan, as a Chinese-controlled Taiwan would enable Beijing to block key trade routes out of Japan. As Biden and Xi met on the sidelines of the G20 conference, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticized China for violating Japanese sovereignty.

The Japanese are also concerned about cooperation between China and Russia, two historical enemies of Japan. In June, Japan tracked eight Russian and Chinese warships near its territory, and Prime Minister Kishida warned of growing ties between China and Russia, particularly in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Kishida said.

Again here the actions of the U.S. military seem to belie Biden’s statements that dismiss talk of heightened tensions in the region. While the G20 Summit is ongoing, 26,000 Japanese army, navy, and air force personnel and about 10,000 U.S. armed forces are conducting a large-scale exercise dubbed “Keen Sword” in clear preparation for a possible future conflict with China. About a week before the summit, Japan hosted its first international fleet review in more than 20 years in Sagami Bay, south of Tokyo.

Japan and Australia have also been working to strengthen their alliance, including by deploying troops in each other’s country. Last week, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said that it was “inconceivable” Australia would not join the U.S. and Japan in a defense of Taiwan if Beijing did make a move. Australia has also expanded its commitment to defense spending, boosting funding to 2 percent of GDP with a target to hit 3-3.5 percent in the next five years. Among Australian priorities are plans to produce a new cruise missile and counter-drone capabilities, along with a plan to increase total enlisted personnel by nearly 80,000.

Many Asian leaders have expressed concern at what they view as the Biden administration’s soft approach to China after the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign. Those fears seemed to be only confirmed earlier this year when the White House National Security Strategy for 2023 and subsequent defense budget did not include funding for development of new weapons systems like a new type of sea-based nuclear cruise missile known as SLCM-N.

While much of the Western media failed to report on the importance of counter-strike capabilities in discouraging Chinese aggression, SLCM-N was designed as an ultra-advanced system capable of deterring China, Russia, and North Korea. Instead of continuing development of this weapon and others like it, the Biden administration is now reliant on older air-based missile systems. Biden’s decision to cancel development of SLCM-N is in effect a betrayal of his promises to American allies.

Biden has also taken other actions which have undoubtedly both alarmed U.S. allies and emboldened the Chinese, including withdrawing the entire fleet of U.S. F-15 Eagles based in Okinawa, Japan. The move reduced the total number of U.S. strike aircraft in Japan by about half, and sent a message to Beijing that the U.S. is not serious about maintaining its power projection in the South Pacific.

Joe Biden, meanwhile, seems content to pretend as if all is well around the world, even in light of the mounting number of international catastrophes he has overseen. This time, the cost of ignoring the obvious and failing to take a strong stance could prove even more consequential.

Ben Solis is the pen name of an international affairs journalist, historian, and researcher.