China Hopes for a New Era of Appeasement
On Friday the 13th, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) congratulated Joe Biden on his win in the 2020 presidential election even as the results were still being contested in the U.S. The statement issued by Beijing’s Foreign Ministry was short and formal, but the Chinese state-run media was quick to express what the Communist leadership hopes a Biden administration will mean for the advancement of China’s interests.
Global Times, the official outlet of the ruling Communist Party (CPC), ran “Experts look forward to Biden administration addressing issues that separate China, US” the following Monday. One of the three experts was Zhang Baijia, former deputy director of the Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee. He noted “the goals of China and the US are different. The US wants to maintain its global leadership, while China hopes to safeguard its right to development.” He concluded that “It's expected that the Biden administration will act differently from the Trump administration. It will abandon Trump's ‘America First’ unilateralism and make changes in many aspects. But though there may be some adjustments, the basic policy that takes China as a strategic competitor will not change. For China, the policy change of the US will be both a challenge and an opportunity."
Xi and Biden in 2015 (YouTube screngrab)
As is common in Chinese propaganda, foreign experts are featured when they advocate policies benefitting Beijing. The other two experts cited were both Americans who favor improved relations. The views of Craig B. Allen, president of the US-China Business Council, were to be expected. Strategic issues are beyond him. He and those rope-selling capitalists Lenin praised fit the warning from the renowned economic thinker Joseph Schumpeter. He noted their commercial leadership “does not readily expand... into the leadership of nations. On the contrary, the ledger and the cost calculation absorb and confine." Thus, Allen concludes “Both sides should meet their commitments to ensure that tariffs are progressively removed, trade and investment increases, and confidence is built from day one.” For those who hope (in vain) that they will get a cut of the action, the massive flow of capital and technology into China’s strategic industries and laboratories is not to be impeded.
More disturbing was the statement from William Cohen, a former Republican politician who served briefly as Defense Secretary to President Bill Clinton during the period when it was fashionable to think trade would tame Beijing and our military could be “hollowed out’ in an era of world peace and global liberalism. He predicted “There will be a different tone, one of civility, one of statesmanship, one of responsibility and personal relationship building.” And while there will still be areas of dispute (he only mentioned human rights, ignoring the escalating military confrontations), he emphasized areas of cooperation. “There are so many issues that we can cooperate on, on the environment issues, pandemic issues, dealing with nuclear weapons and countering terrorism. Those are the issues where we certainly can come to an agreement.” Cohen serves on the board of the US-China Business Council and endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 and Biden this year.
The notion of that there are areas of cooperation so important that the traditional security concerns of Great Power competition can be ignored will be a central theme of a Biden administration. Richard Haass, President of the Council of Foreign Relations, the flagship of the decadent Establishment, relied on this line in his essay “A New Cold War with China Would Be a Mistake.” Yet, there is no chance of progress on these topics any more than in the past. China’s desire to develop takes precedence over the regressive theories of the radical environmentalists. Beijing thinks that the Green movement is a plot to keep them down, though it is happy to exploit the opportunity to push America into decline.
President Xi Jinping would love another climate agreement with Biden like the one he made with Obama in 2014. The U.S. set the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at least 26% by 2025 while China made no firm commitments to anything. Indeed, Beijing announced it would continue to increase greenhouse emissions until at least 2035. President Xi did promise to use more nuclear and solar power, but these are needed to meet China’s booming energy needs as economic growth continues to be top priority.
Beijing has denied any responsibility for the Wuhan pandemic that spread around the world to kill over a million people. And China will continue to shield North Korea from any meaningful action to dismantle its nuclear program. Xi has just led a massive celebration of China’s role in the “War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea” 70 years ago (he always refers to Korea as a single, unified entity). His purpose was to boost public support for a continued hard line: “Chinese and DPRK people and armies went through thick and thin, forging great friendship with blood in the war” and “the country has never forgotten its older generation of revolutionaries.”
Another Global Times story hailed “Rational voices in China-US ties emerge, paving way for Biden’s pragmatic policies” To help these experts better serve Beijing, “Some think tanks in China have invited or plan to invite predominant academics, who understand China and usually play an important role in enhancing mutual understanding.” John Thornton of the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank linked to the Democrats, was praised for talking in hopeful tones to the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing think tank.
Also cited was former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers (also a former Vice President of the World Bank) who told a web seminar hosted by the Chinese financial media outlet Caixin that "China and the US should engage in closed-door diplomacy to forge agreements and understandings on each other's core interests to guide their bilateral relationship out of its current turbulent state." A closed door so the American people would not know they were being sold out.
Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, was critical of the support the Trump administration has given to Taiwan. “The Biden administration will not take such a hostile and aggressive stance to challenge China's bottom-line. There will be some policy adjustment on this question." On the Monday after it congratulated Biden, the PRC Foreign Ministry stated “there is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China… We once again warn the US that any act that undermines China's core interests or interferes in China's internal affairs will be resolutely countered by the Chinese side and cannot stop the historical trend of China's reunification.”
During the second debate, Biden pledged his support for Taiwan, whose proud people do not want to fall under the Beijing dictatorship. The question is whether he will have the will or the means to counter the Chinese threats that will be coming on many fronts. President Trump had made rebuilding the military, especially the Navy, a major priority. Progressive hope that under Biden, defense spending will be slashed. Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee (considered a “centrist”) has proposed up to $20 billion in annual cuts to head off progressive demands for a 20 percent cut ($140 billion per year). There is no question Beijing hopes the axe will fall. And no question that when Beijing congratulated Biden on his victory, they were celebrating the prospect of future victories for China.
William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.