Within months of the Biden administration assuming charge, any lingering doubt about the US returning to business-as-usual with China, and thus abandoning Trump’s tough approach, has been removed. Biden intends to be tough on China if it does not stop being a bully to its land and maritime neighbours, persecutes minorities such Uighurs in Xinjiang, suppresses democratic aspirations in Hong Kong, and menaces Taiwan. And, above all, if it pursues economic terrorism against democratic nations.
This became amply clear last week at what was the first formal meeting of the high-level delegations of the two countries. The verbal standoff at the two-day meeting of the visiting Chinese delegation led by Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Anchorage, Alaska, was the first face-to-face interaction between the two countries. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken started the verbal fireworks by accusing China of defying universal norms of peaceful, orderly relations, totting up a number of grievances against Beijing.
Belying fears that it might return to the diplomatic niceties of the pre-Trump era, Blinken lit into the Chinese delegation, accusing them of threatening global stability by their aggressive behaviour and denounced it for violating human rights of her own people. Blinken had come to the meeting after paying well-publicised visits to allies such as South Korea and Japan to send out a message of unity against the growing Chinese aggressive behaviour in geopolitics. Remarkably, Blinken’s tongue-lashing came in front of the global media which he had specifically detained to watch him rip apart the visiting delegation.
On its part, China responded in kind, holding the US guilty of several excesses in the last two decades, including of wanting to run the world on its terms, of using force to destabilise elected governments, of patronising autocrats and anti-people potentates, suppressing blacks and minorities at home et al. Hearing both sides, an independent observer would have found it hard to resist exclaiming that both sides spoke the truth to each other.
But, when all is done and considered, the US is certainly benign as compared to the evil and dangerous Chinese who of late have shed all pretence of respecting the norms of peaceful behaviour to carve out the world in their own warped worldview. It seems the economic success that came by dint of the follies of rich nations such as the US has gone to the head of the Chinese leadership and it cannot help bully the world. Of course, it will have serious consequences for China if the emerging alliance of democracies fructifies into a serious challenge to stop the global bully in its tracks.
It is notable that even the erstwhile Soviet Union at the peak of its power had not sought to menace the world the way a newly-rich and powerful China does against all its neighbours and even trading partners from Canada to Australia and to major European nations. Even if such egregious conduct stems from the felt need to constantly prove to its suppressed people of its super-power status, sooner than later it will recoil in the face of the Chinese Communist Party. It is, therefore, heartening to see the US stand up to the bully and put it on notice that unless it changes its behaviour it will not be business as usual. It is notable that Biden publicly endorsed the performance of Secretary of State Blinken in his meeting with the Chinese delegation.
Meanwhile, what was less surprising last week was that the Biden administration abandoned the soft approach towards Russia, reversing four year’s Trump’s love-fest with President Vladimir Putin. Asked whether he too endorsed the finding that Russia had sought to interfere in the US election and that Putin was behind the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalany, Biden said he agreed 'Putin is a killer'. Two days later, Putin responded, saying it takes a killer to recognise a killer.
Happily, despite such low recriminations, both China and Russia cooperated with the US in the realm of climate change and nuclear arms control. It seems after the exchange of bitter diatribes the Chinese and US delegations settled down to conduct some serious business regarding climate change, Afghanistan , Iran, North Korea, etc. The template for conflict and collaboration in the conduct of US foreign policy towards China and Russia is now set. The democratic world has reason to be cautiously optimistic.