The first talks between President Biden’s national security team and the Chinese Communists began with a heated exchange that did not bode well for the remainder of the discussions. Even before talks with the Chinese started, Secretary of State Antony Blinken attempted to diminish expectations that significant progress would be made with the representatives of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Blinken’s assessment of what should be anticipated was presented as such:
“There’s no intent at this point for a series of follow-on engagements. Those engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the issues of concern to us with China.”
To that end, The New York Times wrote: “American diplomats ended a fraught round of high-level talks with Chinese officials in Alaska on Friday with no major diplomatic breakthroughs and acknowledged that a tense relationship lies ahead for Washington and Beijing.” To explain more about how Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan evaluated the two-day exchange, Reuters reports: “Blinken told reporters [last] Friday, it was clear the two countries remained fundamentally at odds on several issues, including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.”
In a press pool video statement, Blinken explained:
“It’s no surprise that when we raised those issues, clearly and directly, we got a defensive response. But we were also able to have a very candid conversation on Iran, on North Korea, on Afghanistan, on climate. Our interests intersect. On economics, on trade, on technology, we told our counterparts that we are reviewing these issues with close consultation with Congress, with our allies and partners.”
Blinken added that the U.S. would move forward on “economics, on trade and technology” in a manner that provides the most protection “and advances the interests of our workers and our businesses.”
In a separate meeting with reporters from China’s CGTN television network, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that the discussions had been “candid, constructive and beneficial.” The foreign minister went on to say, “China will firmly safeguard national sovereignty, security, and development.” The Associated Press added a more direct statement from Minister Wang: “The U.S. side should not underestimate China’s determination to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
If anything positive resulted from the meeting, it was that a small working group would be set up to take on subjects like “climate change.” The group would also hold talks “to facilitate activities of … diplomatic and consular missions.” However, after the opening dustup and angry words, did the U.S. side learn anything?
In a commentary printed in The Epoch Times, Wang He, a China expert and lecturer, said the U.S. fell into four “traps set by the CCP in the U.S.-China talks.” The first trap was that the U.S. elected to hold the talks at all. Particularly troubling, Wang posited, was that the meeting went forward without any proposals “or concessions” from the Chinese side as openers.
Secondly, the U.S. should anticipate that the Chinese diplomats will not honor any protocol agreement for timeframes for opening statements or any other terms that bound the discussions. The agreed-to opening statement length was two minutes, as is customary. Yang Jiechi, the foreign policy representative of the Communist Party, talked for 16 minutes and then claimed that the Chinese were the victims because they expected to have discussions with “no conflict.” CCP duplicity is a theme picked up by Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in an email to The Epoch Times: “Just as the Chinese delegation refused to comply with the agreed-upon rules of the meeting, Beijing refuses to comply with the rules-based international order.”
According to Wang, the third trap that the U.S. should look out for in the future was that Yang was allowed to draw a “red line” for the discussions, rather than the U.S. taking the initiative in establishing the boundaries for its narrative. Yang’s red line was China’s sovereignty and internal affairs. Once that happened, the U.S. attempt to re-establish, as a point of contention, the CCP’s behavior toward its neighbors and complying with international norms of behavior internally was doomed.
Wang’s final description of a trap the U.S. should avoid in the future is not to have a goal for a meeting with the Chinese besides the “U.S. side’s intention to seek cooperation.” On what would the two sides be cooperating? Enabling the CCP’s bad behavior? This approach has never worked well when “facing such fierce confrontation.”
Seeking cooperation is not a winning strategy or tactic with the CCP. It, unfortunately, is a shortfall of the State Department’s worldview. For the State Department, “cooperation” is finding common ground so that a western idea of “win-win” is possible. For China, the only way they win is if China and the U.S. implicitly understand that China has won and the U.S. has lost decidedly.
There will be other times for Secretary Blinken and a U.S. diplomatic team to face off with China. The hope is that the U.S. team will take counsel from Mr. Wang’s cautions: that, next time, American officials will engage the CCP as “clear-eyed” going in and “clear-eyed coming out.” Sullivan erroneously thought they were doing that this time.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
Read more from Dave Patterson.