The Biden administration’s first encounter with Chinese diplomats in Alaska on Thursday was an utter debacle, as the Chinese disregarded protocols to lecture the stunned Biden team on American “human rights violations” and reject all American criticism of the tyranny in Beijing as meaningless bluster.
Diplomatic etiquette was quickly abandoned as top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi launched an 18-minute tirade against the U.S., touting Beijing’s foreign policy as superior because “we don’t believe in invading through the use of force, or to topple other regimes through various means, or to massacre the people of other countries.”
Yang insisted the U.S. is the “champion” of launching cyberattacks on other countries, said U.S. positions do not “represent international public opinion,” and said “many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States” – unlike China, where unelected leaders allegedly “have the wide support of the Chinese people.”
“China has made decisive achievements and important strategic gains in fighting COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus], and we have achieved a full victory in ending absolute poverty in China,” Yang boasted.
In the most astounding passage of his tirade, Yang – speaking on behalf of a government that has perpetrated brutal religious repression, genocide, and slave labor – said China hopes the U.S. will “do better on human rights” in the future:
China has made steady progress in human rights and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the U.S. itself as well. The United States has also said that countries can’t rely on force in today’s world to resolve the challenges we face. And it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called “authoritarian” states. And the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently. So we do hope that for our two countries, it’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.
Yang’s was followed by a shorter but equally truculent lecture from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who rejected “unwarranted accusations from the U.S. side” and claimed “China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression” from the United States.
“China urges the U.S. side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue and it should be changed,” Wang said, demanding the immediate reversal of sanctions imposed on March 17 against Chinese officials for their role in the oppression of Hong Kong.
“This is not supposed to be the way one should welcome his guests, and we wonder if this is a decision made by the United States to try to gain some advantage in dealing with China, but certainly this is miscalculated and only reflects the vulnerability and weakness inside the United States,” Wang said of the sanctions.
The flabbergasted Biden team was reduced to begging reporters to stay after a scheduled four-minute photo session so they could muster some sort of rebuttal to the Chinese attack. The best thing they could come up with was National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan’s attempt to zing China by saying “a confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve” – which is just a weak sound-bite imitation of the 18-minute harangue Sullivan had just endured from his Chinese guests.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) provided an instructive comparison of the background comments made by members of the two delegations after the encounter. The Chinese took a victory lap and said they felt bad about pummeling Biden’s team, but they were overcome by righteous indignation over the rude reception they received, while the Biden official whined that the Chinese talked for too long:
Chinese state media later quoted an unnamed Chinese official – in a background briefing after the first day of talks – that China was sincere in its dialogue with the US, but the American side had overrun its opening remarks and made groundless accusations against China.
“This is not a way of hospitality, nor does it conform to diplomatic etiquette. China has responded solemnly to this,” the official said, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
In another sign of tension, the two sides did not sit down for a meal together, generally customary in meetings of this kind.
And a senior US official, speaking on background afterwards, countered that the US side had arrived hoping to lay out “the principles, interests, and values that animate our engagement with Beijing” but that the Chinese side “seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance”.
The official also criticized the Chinese side for “violating protocol” by speaking for far longer than the agreed-upon two minutes.
The Biden team’s failure in Alaska is profoundly disturbing for several reasons. Firstly, the entire encounter was foolishly structured in a way that could only benefit the Chinese dictatorship. As the SCMP pointed out, the Biden White House treated the meeting like a meaningless bit of diplomatic theater all week, a “one-off with little chance of going anywhere.”
That made it a perfect venue for the kind of “grandstanding” by China that Biden’s people complained about. Much of the world is bowing to Beijing’s tyranny while being fully aware of its terrible actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and the South China Sea; resistance is not a matter of “raising awareness” about China’s offenses. A bold, confident, aggressive, utterly amoral tyranny was not about to lose a grandstanding competition against an “America Last” White House.
The second problem flows from that America Last attitude: everything Yang and Wang threw at the visibly unnerved Blinken and Sullivan echoes the Democrat Party’s vicious critique of the American people.
The Chinese know exactly what they are doing when they invoke Black Lives Matter rhetoric to hector a Democrat administration about human rights in America. They were merely throwing the rhetoric of Blinken and Sullivan’s own party right back in their faces. What response could the Biden team have made? “No, black Americans aren’t getting slaughtered in the streets by racist cops, no matter what our party has been saying for the past year! You take that back!”
The third and most disturbing issue is that all of this was entirely predictable, but somehow the Biden team and its intelligence briefers were taken completely by surprise. The briefest perusal of Chinese state media reveals the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constantly uses left-wing American rhetoric and media coverage to attack the United States. Everything Yang and Wang said came straight out of boilerplate editorials in the Global Times and People’s Daily.
Alaska was the most heavily-telegraphed diplomatic ambush in modern history, but somehow the Biden White House walked right into it and looked astonished to find themselves at the Red Wedding instead of a Brookings Institution roundtable discussion.