The line between diplomacy and appeasement is thin. If there is a verifiable process for achieving a lifesaving outcome without incurring unacceptable risk, loss of life or rights, diplomacy is afoot. But concessions made from fear, expediency, trading current comfort for future peril, or wishful thinking is appeasement. America cannot appease China or Iran.
While President Biden disposed of “America First” in his “virtual” G-7 meeting, his foreign policy remains murky. Some Trump policies are so obviously right – that reversing them would appear foolish. The Biden team seems to get this – holding hard-won trade advantages, letting China know we object to human rights abuses (including genocide), intellectual property theft, cyberespionage, penetration of US education, intimidation of Taiwan, militarization of the South China Sea, and what Treasury Secretary Yellen called “illegal, unfair and abusive” actions. See, e.g., https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/business/economy/biden-china.html.
But words are words, and actions speak louder than words. As predicted, China is already pushing the Biden team – testing how real their words are, how weak their convictions. In the past three weeks, China has been confrontational, with minimal pushback.
Examples: Overtly attacking Christians, China suddenly upended a 2018 agreement with the Vatican not to dominate Catholics. See, e.g., https://www.nationalreview.com/2021/02/china-betrays-its-deal-with-the-vatican/. Three days after Biden took office, China deployed a first wave of near-Taiwan military fighters and bombers, calling it a “solemn warning.” See, e.g., https://www.tasnimnews.com/en/news/2021/01/27/2441007/china-says-flyovers-in-taiwan-strait-a-solemn-warning.
One week after Biden took office, China used words not heard in decades. They declared that any talk of Taiwan becoming independent “means war.” See, e.g., https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/taiwan-independence-war-china-b1794026.html. China is pushing – to see how far they can go. They press military exercises around Taiwan, last weekend a dozen fighters and bombers. See, e.g., https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/taiwan-scrambles-air-force-again-after-chinese-exercises-in-south-china-sea/ar-BB1dRoPN?ocid=uxbndlbing; https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/19/asia/taiwan-china-fighter-jets-intl-hnk/index.html.
This week, China announced a “Chinese maritime law authorizing coast guard vessels to fire on ships in the South China Sea.” See, e.g., https://m.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/feb/19/us-voices-concerns-new-china-maritime-law/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS. That too is new. They are making mass arrests in Hong Kong, starting show trials of Hong Kong’s democracy movement leaders, violating due process, international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This week they took control of Hong Kong’s education system, retooling it Communist. See, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/china-overhauls-hong-kongs-education-system-amid-ongoing-crackdown.
As a result of these events, fear is spiking, thousands fleeing Hong Kong ahead of Communist takeover of the formerly autonomous region. Little is being done by the West to stop it. See, e.g., https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/thousands-flee-hong-kong-uk-fearing-china-crackdown-75602792. Last week, China shut down western news outlets, then strong-armed Hong Kong to do the same. They are redefining reality, isolating, intimidating.
Communism – whether Chinese, Soviet, or a version advocated in Western countries – thrives on fear, coercion, suppression of rights, censorship, and brain washing, reeducation in the name of ideological purity, deprogramming, psychiatric care. What the Soviets did for 70 years, China is now doing, and others would do for power. The only answer is courage, and calling it out.
China is now blaming the US for Taiwan tension, despite decades of US-Taiwanese diplomatic, economic, and military ties. See, e.g., https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/taiwan-scrambles-air-force-again-after-chinese-exercises-in-south-china-sea/ar-BB1dRoPN?ocid=uxbndlbing
On the plus side, Biden’s team cannot put the evil genie back in the bottle. The world is aware, due to Trump’s unrelenting megaphone, that China is a bad actor – straining for more power. Biden cannot credibly “go weak.” He must keep appearances up, especially facing a bipartisan resolution in Congress on China. See, e.g., https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-02-19/us-lawmakers-set-resolution-condemning-china-over-hong-kong-rights.
Main point: Appeasement is defined by silence, keeping up appearances, not matching actions to words. China presents a tough case, but Biden’s words must be matched by tough economic, diplomatic, and military consequences. Not being loved is the price of truth; Biden must call the immoral Chinese government what it is – dishonest, corrupt, and illegitimate.
So far, Biden has done little. While Yellen and Secretary of State Blinken warn China off human rights abuses and threatening Taiwan, little action has followed. Biden’s words are worse. Last week, in a speech billed as defending “democracy,” he gave backhanded legitimacy to China’s totalitarian government, saying they were “stiff competition,” but had “different norms.” Well, yes, I should say so – very “different norms.” See, e.g., https://www.wsj.com/articles/biden-defends-essential-democracy-amid-chinas-rise-at-summits-with-european-allies-11613753396?st=9n95hgszw9q68wy&reflink=article_email_share.
Biden did nothing to call out communist practices, excusing China’s mistreatment of religious minorities, especially Muslims imprisoned for “reeducation.” That is appeasement, disparaging truth for expediency. As one former national security advisor noted, this is “bigotry masquerading as cultural sensitivity.” See, e.g., www.foxnews.com/politics/biden-comments-on-chinas-uighurs-bigotry-masquerading-as-cultural-sensitivity-h-r-mcmaster-says.
Biden’s comments are a throwback to weak leaders indulging Soviet abuses as a different way of governing, implying legitimacy has no moral component, diplomacy no imperatives. That is factually, morally, historically false. Biden’s green light is the wrong signal. Notably, Biden – nominally Catholic – was silent on China’s suppression of the Catholic Church last week.
This approach to foreign policy – often dubbed “convergence,” “separate legitimacy,” “moral equivalency” – is fundamentally wrong. A similar dichotomy defined US-Soviet relations, until Reagan delegitimized Communism with facts, showcased suppression. Reagan did not give them legitimacy. He condemned them to “the ash heap of history.” At some point, Biden’s foreign policy must either match consequences with truth or become appeasement.
Now Iran, more immediately grave. Iran is on a beeline for nuclear weapons, subverted the Obama accord, played America for money, time and a fool, pretending not to be doing what we let them do. Biden is on the verge of playing the fool again. Even the Wall Street Journal is concerned. See e.g. https://www.wsj.com/articles/bidens-art-of-the-iran-concession-11613777410; https://www.msn.com/en-us/video/other/republicans-slam-bidens-move-to-drop-iran-sanctions-push/vi-BB1dREmi; https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=biden+iran&docid=13899723326324&mid=A820A9D64075AE138E30A820A9D64075AE138E30&view=detail&FORM=VIRE;
Iran demands release from Trump’s paralyzing sanctions, so they can up the ante, accelerate investment, avoid internal unrest, take to the cleaners the West. Smart policy is linking truth and consequences – not avoiding it. Biden should unify the world around sanctions to compel an end to Iran’s nuclear program. Anything less is appeasement, no matter how you dress it up.
Biden’s team may think giving away credibility, showing mercy to mass violators of human rights, offering cover to illegitimate governments, swapping money for unverifiable promises is harmless. It is not. They think they will win friends, but this is not diplomacy. This is appeasement, transparent weakness, and the sure path to undeterred conflict.
Winston Churchill’s warning, not on many White House minds after Biden removed Churchill’s bust from the Oval Office – is worth recalling: “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” See, e.g., https://www.foxnews.com/politics/biden-churchill-bust-oval-office. It always does. A better approach is calling out bad actors, unifying allies to confront, contain, and roll back threats, promoting civil, humane, and lawful behavior. That is diplomacy, not appeasement. The distinction matters – now more than ever.