Alaska, Antony J. Blinken, Asia-Pacific, Barack Obama, Biden, China, Donald Trump, global norms, globalism, Hong Kong, human rights, Indo-Pacific, international law, Jake Sullivan, liberal global order, Our So-Called Foreign Policy, Reinhold Niebuhr, sanctions, Serenity Prayer, South China Sea, Taiwan, tariffs, tech, Trade, Uighurs, United Nations, Yang Jiechi
You knew (at least I did) that America’s top foreign policy officials were going to step in it when they led off their Alaska meeting yesterday with Chinese counterparts by describing U.S. policy toward the People’s Republic as first and foremost a globalist exercise in strengthening “the rules-based international order” rather than protecting and advancing Americas’ own specific national interests.
This emphasis on the part of Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan simultaneously made clear that they had no clue on how to communicate effectively to the Chinese or about China’s own aims, and – as was worrisomely true for the Obama administration in which both served – unwittingly conveyed to Beijing that they were more concerned about dreaming up utopian global arrangements than about dealing with the United States’ own most pressing concerns in the here and now.
It’s true that, in his opening remarks at the public portion of yesterday’s event that Blinken initially refered to advancing “the interests of the United States.” But his focus didn’t stay there for long. He immediately pivoted to contending:
“That system is not an abstraction. It helps countries resolve differences peacefully, coordinate multilateral efforts effectively and participate in global commerce with the assurance that everyone is following the same rules. The alternative to a rules-based order is a world in which might makes right and winners take all, and that would be a far more violent and unstable world for all of us. Today, we’ll have an opportunity to discuss key priorities, both domestic and global, so that China can better understand our administration’s intentions and approach.”
Where, however, has been the evidence over…decades that China views the contemporary world as one in which peaceful resolution of differences is standard operating procedure, much less desirable? That multilateral efforts are worth coordinating effectively? That might shouldn’t make right and that China shouldn’t “take all” whenever it can?
Even more important, where is the evidence that China views what globalists like Blinken view as a system to be legitimate in the first place? Indeed, Yang Jiechi, who in real terms outranks China’s foreign minister as the country’s real foreign affairs czar, countered just a few minutes later by dismissing Blinken’s “so-called rules-based international order” as a selfish concoction of “a small number of countries.” He specifically attacked it for enabling the United States in particular to “excercise long-arm jurisdiction and suppression” and “overstretch the national security through the use of force or financial hegemony….”
Shortly afterwards, he added, “I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize…that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”
Yang touted as a superior alternative “the United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law.” But of course, even if you swallow this Chinese line (and you shouldn’t), it’s been precisely that system’s universality, and resulting need to pretend the existence of an equally universal consensus on acceptable behavior and good faith on the part of all members, that’s resulted in its general uselessness.
Meanwhile, surely striking Beijing as both cynical and utterly hollow were Blinken’s efforts to justify U.S. criticisms of China’s human rights abuses as threats to “the rules-based order that maintains global stability. That’s why they’re not merely internal matters and why we feel an obligation to raise these issues here today.”
After all, whatever any decent person thinks of Beijing’s contemptible crackdown in Hong Kong, arguably genocidal campaigns against the Uighur minority, and brutally totalitarian system generally, what genuinely serious person could believe that the United States, or other democracies, had any intention or capability of halting these practices?
What might have made an actually useful, and credible, impression on the Chinese from a U.S. standpoint would have been blunt declarations that (a) Beijing’s saber-rattling toward (global semiconductor manufacturing leader) Taiwan and sealanes-jeopardizing expansionism in the South China Sea, and cyber-attacks were major threats to American security and prosperity that the United States would keep responding to with all means necessary; and (b) that Washington would continue using a full-range of tariffs and sanctions against predatory Chinese economic practices as long as they continued harming U.S. businesses and their employees. That is, Blinken and Sullivan should have emphasized Chinese actions that hurt and endanger Americans – and against which in the economic sphere, Donald Trump’s policies showed Washington could make a significant difference.
It’s possible that in the private sessions, President Biden’s emissaries will dispense with the grandstanding and zero in on the basics. (Although that shift would raise the question of why this approach was deemed unsuitable for the public.) But the Biden-ites weirdly advertised in advance that China’s economic abuses and the technology development threat it poses wouldn’t be U.S. priorities at any stage of the Alaska meetings.
In the mid-20th century, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr popularized (although probably didn’t write) a devotion called the “Serenity Prayer” whose famous first lines read “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” I’m hoping someone puts copies into Blinken’s and Sullivan’s briefcases for their flight back from Alaska.