By Ben Weingarten | The Federalist | February 17, 2021
The Biden administration and its corporate media cheerleaders are at pains to tell you that career-long China kowtower Joe Biden is “tough on China.” But toughness can only be proven by action. Contra the official narrative, however, President Biden’s initial policies and those tasked with implementing and building upon them do not indicate strength. Rather, to America’s detriment, they signal a reversion to the status quo ante of weakness.
The media has trumpeted Biden administration rhetoric on three key China-related issues: the administration’s affirmation — with caveats — of the Trump administration’s designation of the Chinese Communist Party’s atrocities in Xinjiang as constituting “genocide”; its pledge of a “rock-solid commitment” to Taiwan; and its promise to maintain a “free and open” Indo-Pacific — again, with caveats.
The media also celebrated the Biden administration’s most authoritative statements on U.S.-China policy yet, from a readout of the president’s first call with Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping, and related statements by officials on the administration’s China strategy. Headlines about the call claimed Biden “confronted” Xi with “concerns” about contentious issues such as human rights, trade, and Taiwan. Chinese state media, of course, saw it quite differently — as an amiable and welcome reversal of Trump’s tough on China stance.
American corporate media also reported that Biden staffers embraced the idea America is in an “intense strategic competition with China,” and would be maintaining some of the Trump administration’s policies — a tacit admission of Trump’s relative toughness.
Caving to China on Multiple Fronts
Still, actions speak louder than words, and notwithstanding its continuation of certain policies, and convening of a Pentagon China Task Force too green to be judged, the Biden administration has undercut its rhetoric on several fronts.
It is recommitting America to the self-defeating Paris Climate Accord, on which peerless polluter China will almost surely cheat.
It is returning America to the CCP-dominated World Health Organization, for which it was rewarded with scorn by the lone American on the panel investigating the coronavirus’s origins.
It is extending the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and excluding China from it, delaying implementation of an investment ban on certain companies suspected of working with the Chinese military.
It is barring executive branch employees from calling the Chinese coronavirus by its rightful name and withdrawing a Trump administration draft rule requiring schools to disclose financial ties to Trojan Horse Confucius Institutes.
It is shelving U.S. companies’ acquisition of TikTok, suspending an executive order that would bar the government’s purchase of equipment for the U.S. electric grid from adversaries, and demonstrating ambiguity on whether it would keep Huawei on the Commerce Department’s “entity list.”
Biden’s Troublesome Personnel
Even more consequential than these policies will be the individuals to whom President Biden has entrusted his China strategy. Because personnel is policy, from “The Big Guy” on down, there are glaring weaknesses.
President Biden’s disastrous record on China and the compromising nature of his family’s continued dealings with CCP-tied individuals and entities are troublesome enough. That he also refuses to recant his biggest blunders suggests China may well “eat our lunch” — or at least his.
The same can be said of his senior-most advisors. Given the national security and foreign policy establishment’s historic accommodation of China’s rise, one would think a “tough” president would seek some outsider, contrarian appointees. Yet President Biden has overwhelmingly appointed those who served with him in the feckless Obama administration, in which the status quo of engagement and integration with, and appeasement of, Communist China reigned.
One will search in vain across the top ranks of the Biden administration for anyone who has distinguished himself as an outspoken critic of the CCP, or prognosticator of its malign acts in pursuit of hegemony. Few have publicly engaged in self-reflection about past failings concerning China, let alone demonstrated a newfound understanding of the challenge that would justify belief in superior results going forward.
Co-operation or Co-ordination?
Consider even exceptions to the rule. Two of President Biden’s top China-related appointees include former Obama administration colleagues “Asia czar” Kurt Campbell — who is rumored to have been responsible for that administration’s weakness in 2012 at Scarborough Shoal — and Pentagon China Task Force leader Dr. Ely Ratner.
In 2018, Campbell and Ratner wrote a mea culpa of sorts in Foreign Affairs, where they admitted the establishment they had served had failed on China. Yet their essay was more descriptive than prescriptive. The authors concluded vaguely that instead of trying to grapple with China directly, “Washington should … focus more on its own power and behavior, and the power and behavior of its allies and partners.”
Yet months after publishing the essay, the authors were calling for “cooperation” with China. Notwithstanding China’s predominant culpability in the coronavirus pandemic, in April 2020 as the crisis was accelerating, Campbell, Dr. Ratner, and future Biden administration colleagues Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines signed onto a letter calling for “cooperation between the United States and China,” the “logic” for which the signers found “compelling.”
Meanwhile, consistent with the president they serve, and the China-abetting ruling class from which most of them hail, many senior Biden administration officials have fostered troubling ties to China that would indicate potential vulnerability.
Secretary of State Blinken co-founded WestExec Advisors, a consultancy that on top of other China-related business, helped American universities solicit donations in China without threatening Pentagon-funded grants. DNI Haines and Press Secretary Jen Psaki both worked there.
Blinken also served as managing director of the Penn Biden Center. Tens of millions of anonymous Chinese dollars allegedly flowed into the University of Pennsylvania’s coffers, and potentially the center following its establishment.
Colin Kahl — Biden’s pick for undersecretary of defense policy, who has also been linked to China via his perch at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute — was a strategic consultant at the Penn Biden Center.
Central Intelligence Agency director nominee William Burns presides over the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which in recent years has reportedly received up to $2 million from CCP-tied businessmen and think tanks.
United Nations Ambassador-designate Linda Thomas-Greenfield received a $1,500 honoraria in 2019 for speaking in front of a Confucius Institute at Savannah State University — a speech in which she spoke positively about China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
The aforementioned Kurt Campbell, was, until August 2020, listed as board vice chairman of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, a Confucius Institute-linked “student language exchange” outfit reportedly sharing additional deep ties to the CCP. Separately, Campbell has already had to promise to recuse himself from certain issues given business conducted in Asia under the auspices of the consultancy he founded.
‘Engagement’ As a Code for Weakness
Consider this background against the part of the Biden-Xi call readout the media glossed over: President Biden’s commitment to “pursuing practical, results-oriented engagements.” That China has done nothing to merit such a commitment is a red flag. Is immediately indicating a desire to work with China a sign of strength?
China, after all, is a ruthless, ambitious, determined power that has proven uniquely capable of exploiting the West’s greed, naivete, and openness in the pursuit of its ends. It thrives on “engagement.”
And these are not just any areas of common interest we are talking about. The readout of the Biden-Xi call indicated that both leaders acknowledged “the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and preventing weapons proliferation.” It’s hard to see how it demonstrates “toughness” to work with China in these domains.
The same question can be asked of the Biden administration’s expressed desire to pursue multilateralism to “compete” with China, at the same time Xi is singing the praises of multilateralism — right after inking a massive investment pact with the very European partners and allies Biden seemed to think he could court for some kind of China-focused coalition.
Given its early actions, and with the same Democrat establishment cast running the show that has supported the project of China’s rise to global dominance for years — to say nothing of Biden’s broader ruling class backing from Wall Street to Silicon Valley — all signs point to a high likelihood of a soft-on-China policy.
Talk is cheap. Americans will ultimately pay the price if the Biden administration speaks loudly and carries no stick.