In lashing out against Beijing through The New York Times, the Biden administration revealed their incompetence in handling China.
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he Biden administration’s weakness and incompetence were on full display in a New York Times article last week recounting the White House’s repeated—and failed— attempts to urge China to help avert war in Ukraine. The purpose of the article was to allow senior administration officials to take their duplicitous Chinese counterparts to task, but the account reveals above all that White House officials are out of their depth in dealing with China.
It is nearly impossible to read the Biden administration’s side of the story without perceiving the weakness, gullibility, and ineffectiveness that the Biden White House unwittingly presents. Administration officials describe how they were “repeatedly rebuffed” by Chinese officials even as the Americans scrambled for “half a dozen urgent meetings over three months” to try to avert the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The article repeats how “Each time, the Chinese officials… rebuffed the Americans,” as if to drive home the humiliating point.
These rebuffed Americans are quickly recast as duped Americans. Biden officials disclosed to The New York Times that they shared intelligence with their Chinese counterparts only to be double-crossed when the Chinese quickly leaked that intel to the Russians.
To add insult to injury, the Chinese also told the Russians that the Americans were “trying to sow discord,” and promised Moscow that Beijing would not interfere with Russia’s war plans. The Biden officials who leaked these details must not be aware of how embarrassing they are.
The article then provides a background on the growing public partnership between the Russian and Chinese autocrats, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, with their countries’ ties appearing stronger than any time since the Cold War. U.S. officials figured that if anyone could talk Putin out of an attack on Ukraine, it was Xi, given that Putin and Xi have met 37 times as national leaders. But Xi didn’t, and Chinese officials “persistently sided with Russia.” The Biden officials were for some reason puzzled about why.
The next few paragraphs incidentally unravel this mystery, although the Times author and the unnamed Biden officials don’t see the answer in their own account. It’s worth explaining it here, if only for the benefit of the Biden officials. America and China opened up 50 years ago, and for the first 40 years of that partnership the relationship between America and China grew stronger. For the last ten years, however, China has grown closer to Russia.
When China was weaker and threatened by what was then the Soviet Union, it turned toward America. After decades of aid, investment, technology transfer, education, and lucrative trade with the United States, China is now much stronger than Russia. Its population is much larger, its gross domestic product is ten times bigger, and its technologies (many stolen from the United States) are better. China has much less to fear from Russia, and thus can leverage Russia against America—the only remaining superpower stronger than China.
One way to pit Russia against America is to give tacit support for a Russian war in eastern Europe that will consume America and her allies, while letting China see how the West responds to an invasion analogous to what China has planned for Taiwan. And that’s exactly what China did.
A cynic might even point out that such a war and its fallout might displace the world’s unpleasant memories of China’s horrifying behavior in unleashing and spreading the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic and stonewalling investigations into the virus’ origins. In addition, Russia might even be reduced to a client state to supply commodities to China. That wouldn’t be a bad turn of events by the Chinese against a country that used to threaten them.
But back to the Times story. What comes next should remind Biden officials, and all Americans, of the Wuhan pandemic. When Putin ordered troops into eastern Ukraine, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the United States, not Russia, was “the culprit of current tensions surrounding Ukraine.”
“On the Ukraine issue, lately the U.S. has been sending weapons to Ukraine, heightening tensions, creating panic and even hyping up the possibility of warfare,” she said. “If someone keeps pouring oil on the flame while accusing others of not doing their best to put out the fire, such kind of behavior is clearly irresponsible and immoral.”
Hua then refused to call Russia’s attack on Ukraine an “invasion” when pressed by reporters. Such rhetoric should sound familiar, because less than a year ago The New York Times reported on how China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs repeatedly floated conspiracy theories accusing the United States of starting the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, Biden officials were somehow surprised at Hua’s remarks:“Hua’s fiery anti-American remarks as Russia was moving to attack its neighbor stunned some current and former U.S. officials and China analysts in the United States.”
President Biden should discover which officials were stunned by Hua’s remarks and replace them with competent realists. The same goes for the administration officials who leaked this story to The New York Times without realizing how it exposes their own weakness and incompetence, and President Biden’s.
The article then jumps to another case of naivety, this time courtesy of an on-the-record statement from Evan Medeiros, a former member of President Obama’s National Security Council, who laments: “They claim neutrality, they claim they stand on principle, but everything they say about the causes is anti-U.S., blaming NATO and adopting the Russian line…The question is: How sustainable is that as a posture? How much damage does it do to their ties with the U.S. and their ties with Europe?”
Medeiros teaches about U.S.-China relations at Georgetown University. In case his rhetorical question ever appears on a Georgetown exam, here is the answer: China’s posture is sustainable for as long as American officials keep falling for it without imposing consequences.
The article then recounts a meeting between U.S. officials and the Chinese ambassador, Qin Gang, at the Chinese Embassy in November, in which the Americans tried to trap the ambassador in a “gotcha!” moment by letting him know they caught China helping Russia evade sanctions after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. The Americans warned the ambassador against helping Russia again, saying the sanctions would be tougher this time, and that China’s “global image could suffer” if Russia invaded Ukraine. “The message was clear: It would be in China’s interests to persuade Mr. Putin to stand down.”
Yet when the Chinese calculated their own interests, they concluded it was very much in their interest to give Putin the green light. Perhaps they assumed Europe’s desperation for Russian gas would expose America’s bluff on sanctions. Or maybe Beijing wanted to study how the West would rally against the invasion of a sovereign nation analogous to Taiwan.
Conceivably, China didn’t have a problem with Russia being embroiled in Eastern Europe and heavily sanctioned by America. Perhaps that’s even what they wanted. But whatever it is, Biden officials are utterly lost.
The Biden administration’s diplomatic efforts failed in the short term. Yet their weakness and incompetence, on full display in Times articles they planted, are the real risk this American security.
China is America’s most formidable adversary. The White House should understand that, but obviously doesn’t. President Biden should hire a staff that isn’t so lost in dealing with Beijing, and that can strike back in more effective ways than leaking stories about their angst toward China to The New York Times.