Under General Secretary Xi Jinping, China has built a fearsome wolf warrior reputation of aggressive nationalism. This prowess was in full display at the summit held from March 18 to 19, where Yang Jiechi scolded US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan as they sat across the conference table.
With China’s rapid economic and military advancement, the power gap between China and the US is narrowing and the CCP now feels confident to openly take on the US. This humiliating encounter, the first bilateral meeting between the Biden administration and the Chinese, will go down in history as the turning point of a new era of US-China relation.
Yang, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) foreign affairs boss, ranted: “So let me say here that, in front of the Chinese side, the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.
“The U.S. side was not even qualified to say such things even 20 years or 30 years back, because this is not the way to deal with the Chinese people. If the United States wants to deal properly with the Chinese side, then let’s follow the necessary protocols and do things the right way.”
Yang’s tirade went on for about 16 minutes in violation of an agreed upon two-minute time limit for opening statements. This is yet another example of China’s disregard for the rules-based order that maintains global stability.
The US is KO in the first round
The US side did not have an effective and powerful rebuttal and their response appeared weak. In the court of public perception, the US has lost the first round. It is clear that engagement, the basis of US-China relation since Richard Nixon established diplomatic ties in 1979, is no longer effective. By now, the US has to realize that the CCP only recognizes brute strength, not reason, decorum, rules, and universal values.
On March 28, in what is perceived to be another sign of weakness, Blinken suggested that the Biden administration will not take punitive action against China for its mishandling of the Covid-19 outbreak in which the CCP engaged in misinformation, silenced whistleblowers, failed to contain the outbreak at the point of origin, and knowingly allowed the virus to spread to other countries.
Since then, the CCP machinery is hard at work to rewrite history and propagate a narrative where China is a victim, has successfully overcame the pandemic domestically and is helping other countries via its mask and vaccine diplomacy.
Lingering doubt about the US’ commitment
Blinken’s stance is a break from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration that had called for China to financially compensate affected countries, which practically is the whole world. This was an effective measure and was like a knife hanging above the CCP’s neck. In front of the Trump administration, the CCP appeared meek.
Now that Biden is not going to pursue responsibility, it will offer critics another ammunition to paint Biden as pro-China and this move also serves to elevate China’s international standing and give acknowledgement to China’s revisionist history.
It does not help that the China messaging from Biden is ambiguous. On one hand, Biden says China is a strategic competitor but on the other hand, wants to work with China on climate change, which is a major US policy and campaign promise. There is fear that Biden may give concessions to China in exchange for help to produce result to make the US looks good on the climate front.
The whole world is watching and countries are being forced to take sides in the dispute between the US and China. If the US is seen wavering or does not come out strong enough, they cannot expect allies to stand firmly with them and risk antagonizing a strong and wrathful China.
Similarly, now that China has shown the whole world that the CCP is able to openly challenge the number one superpower and scolded two top-ranking US officials to their faces in front of an international media, and so far without suffering any meaningful consequences, many countries will acquiesce to China’s supremacy.
Strong China gives consistent message
Simply put, if foreign countries and companies want to make money in China’s vast consumer market, they have to toe the party’s line. They have to sacrifice universal values and rules-based order for profits. And the US must deal with China in an equal and respectful way and to stop pretending that they can always point a finger at China. That era is over.
After their success in the Alaska summit, the CCP followed it up with a carrot and stick blitz to shore up support and warn other countries off from standing with the US. At the invitation of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited China from March 22 to 23 to call for a reduction in dependence on the US dollar and Western payment systems.
Thereafter, Foreign Minister Wang visited six Middle East countries and Defense Minister Wei Fenghe visited four European countries. To top it off, between March 31 to April 3, foreign ministers of four ASEAN countries – Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines – as well as the South Korean foreign minister, paid a visit to China.
One notable incident of an obvious display of obeisance to China was when Malaysia’s foreign minister Hishammuddin Hussein told his counterpart in a joint press briefing “You will always be my elder brother.”
This is not the language and style that should be used in the world of diplomacy and international relations. The fact that it is used seems to indicate that Malaysia has thrown away national dignity and pride and decided to be subservient to China. It is speculated that Malaysia may not be the only country to feel this way.
Is Biden cowed by big brother China?
As Biden has clarified that China is a strategic competitor, he must now toughen his stance, not just to reassure domestic audience but also the international allies he is trying to pull to his side to counter China. To stand up to the CCP’s gangsterism, the US must talk tough and act tough.
Biden is under pressure to take a hardline approach and he has to do more to show both Democrat and Republican voters and the world his administration stands for democracy and reject appeasement of the CCP. It may be so that his team is quietly ratcheting up support from other like-minded allies but it is also equally important to have strong posturing and a show of force.
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