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How China's Response to Biden's Comments Could Have Been Worse

How China's Response to Biden's Comments Could Have Been Worse


How China's Response to Biden's Comments Could Have Been Worse

China’s response to comments made by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during his recent trip to China has given the rest of the world a glimpse into just how much damage the bilateral relationship can endure before either side snaps. The vice president is not new to diplomatic spats and has been a key player in repairing strained relationships with China and Japan during his tenure as vice president.

Both times, however, he appears to have set the relationship back further than it had come forward. Biden’s visit to China went about as well as could be expected, considering he publicly and repeatedly made clear that he believed Beijing was directly undermining American interests and strategically encircling it in the Pacific – views that were not exactly hidden under a bushel but which were certainly not common knowledge among most Americans let alone high-ranking Chinese government officials.

What Did Biden Actually Say?

Despite the fact that Biden’s comments seemed calculated to annoy, he probably did not expect them to be greeted with stony silence from the Chinese side. That is what happens when one criticizes the Chinese government for mounting surveillance and intelligence facilities on artificial islands in the South China Sea in clear violation of international law, then promises that the U.S. would “push back” and would not “turn a blind eye” to such activities. Vice President Biden’s brazen and public criticism of China’s activities in the South China Sea will have infuriated Chinese officials and state-run media. China’s “unmistakable” response to Biden was a resounding silence. The Chinese side did not respond to his allegations during his trip and the Chinese media continued to ignore his comments.

China’s Response

At the same time, however, China knew that Biden was not going anywhere, nor would his views on the South China Sea be quashed. Instead, they chose to wait until after Biden left, when they could make their response public without embarrassing the vice president.

As soon as Biden finished his China visit and left for his next destination, China’s Foreign Ministry responded with a carefully worded, but searing rebuke. Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi publicly denounced Biden’s remarks as “irresponsible” and “hypocritical,” and accused the vice president of making “unbridled criticism against China.”

Wang also reminded Biden – and the rest of the world – that “whoever writes the history of the 21st century will write that the Chinese people stood up, planted flowers in the South China Sea, cultivated the ability to defend the nation’s core interests, and created a China that is more prosperous and open.”

The Bigger Picture

Biden’s trip was intended to be a mid-term re-accommodation of the relationship with China, following President Trump’s efforts to reset the bilateral relationship in 2017.

Biden spent time with President Xi Jinping, who is expected to remain in power through the next decade and oversee the implementation of his “New Era of Chinese Power” for the remainder of his term. Wang’s response, however, indicates that Beijing is not interested in realigning its relationship with the United States, nor does it consider Biden’s trip to represent an opening that could lead to an improvement in the relationship.

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Rather than being a sign of weakness, China’s response to Biden’s comments was a demonstration of strength. China’s “New Era of Chinese Power,” will be a unilateral effort to rewrite global rules and norms in Beijing’s favor, while simultaneously consolidating control in China by eliminating any threat to the Communist Party’s power.

Xi and his officials have made it clear that they do not consider themselves to be constrained by either their language or actions of the past.

Biden Backed A Loser

It is entirely possible that Biden does not believe China will actually succeed in its plans for regional domination. He may have simply been playing a long game that seeks to undermine China’s attempts to gain regional and global dominance from the outset. If that is the case, Biden’s trip was an unmitigated disaster.

While he was in China, Biden did not meet with any of the Chinese government officials who are actually responsible for carrying out Beijing’s policy initiatives. Instead, he spent time with academics and business leaders, who are almost certainly sympathetic to the Communist Party’s agenda and who will be powerless to change it.

Bottom Line

Vice President Biden’s trip to China was intended to demonstrate a new American eagerness to engage with the rising superpower and reverse some of the damage done by President Trump’s unpredictable foreign policy.

Rather than showing that the United States is ready to return to the table and get down to business, however, Biden’s visit has revealed that the bilateral relationship is now largely based on mutual contempt.

Biden may have played a role in resetting the relationship between the United States and China, but he has also ensured that nothing will be the same again.

How China's Response to Biden's Comments Could Have Been Worse

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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