Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to China gave Beijing the perfect opportunity to stage a propaganda coup while bringing little benefit to the United States, according to analysts.
The two-day trip—marking the first such visit by a U.S. top diplomat in five years—ended on June 19 with Blinken holding talks with Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, Beijing’s top-ranking diplomat Wang Yi, and for a little more than half an hour, regime leader Xi Jinping.
Washington has cast these meetings in a positive light. Blinken, who has raised issues from Taiwan to human rights to the Chinese spy base in Cuba, has described the conversations as “robust” and “constructive,” and a chance to inject greater stability into an increasingly unstable relationship.
But for longtime China watchers and those who have been advocating for a stronger stance on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the meetings seem far from fruitful.
“Only those who equate dialogue with accomplishment could believe that Blinken’s visit was a success,” June Teufel Dreyer, a political science professor at the University of Miami, told The Epoch Times. “The chief takeaway, if one can call it that, from the meeting was the decision to hold more meetings.”
‘More Symbolic Than Substantial’
China has rejected repeated calls from Blinken to resume bilateral military exchanges, which was one of the key objectives the United States had. Regarding the fentanyl precursor outflow from China, the arbitrary detention of Americans such as Texas businessman Mark Swidan, who is now on death row, and other issues Blinken has flagged, few tangible commitments appeared to have come out of the roughly 11 hours of talks.
“We’re not going to have success on every issue between us on any given day, but in a whole variety of areas—on the terms that we set for this trip—we have made progress and we are moving forward,” Blinken told reporters after meeting with Xi, arguing that resolving issues with China is “a process.”
Several Republican lawmakers and former Trump administration officials don’t see it this way.
“This trip is more symbolic than substantial,” Miles Yu, the principal China policy adviser to Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, told The Epoch Times.
“China always wants to have a process, and in the process, China will impose onto the United States the terms of the cooperation in their favor,” he said.
The same holds true for creating bilateral military communication lines, Yu said.
“Basically, China wants to extract as much concession from the U.S. as possible by delaying this, while behaving cantankerously and dangerously provocative in the meantime to raise the tension,” he said, noting that just hours after Blinken left China, Beijing had stepped up its now near daily military harassment of Taiwan, the democratic island it has sought to seize as its own.
“This is almost like slow-move blackmailing.”
Blinken’s reception in Beijing was fairly muted. Greeting him at the airport was a lone Chinese foreign ministry official, with no red carpet nor welcoming, flower-carrying crowds. Curious spectators also drew attention to a red line drawn on the runway, musing on social media whether it was a signal from the regime on the “red line” issues—including Taiwan—it has warned Washington not to cross.
Despite that Xi called it “very good” that the “two sides have also made progress and reached agreement on some specific issues,” he held off confirming the expected meeting until the very last moment: an hour before it started.
“It’s successful for the Chinese because China used this opportunity to show its contempt for America,” Yu said. He also said he saw Beijing’s greeting for Blinken as a deliberate snub.
Even the seating arrangement appeared to denote a subtle power play. Xi, during the June 19 meeting, presided as the head of the table while having Blinken sit to his right. It was a departure from Xi’s meeting with Pompeo in June 2018, at which the two sat side by side with a table in between, which put them more on equal footing.
According to Yu, it was as if Xi was presenting himself as an “emperor lecturing Americans, imposing his image on the secretary of state.”
“It’s all for optics for the Chinese,” he said. “They believe the Biden team is kind of weak and eager to get China’s cooperation, so they exploited that.”
The fact that Blinken had “accepted it without complaint” showed the “weakness of Biden administration policy,” according to Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China.”
While Westerners might not think much of the image elements, for the regime and its neighbors in Taiwan, these hidden meanings are not lost, he said.
“It says that China basically believes the U.S. was no longer a force in global affairs,” Chang said in an interview on EpochTV’s Crossroads program.
The view is the same from Peter Navarro, who served as a trade adviser under the Trump administration.
“It was a great propaganda coup for the dictator Xi Jinping,” he told The Epoch Times. “It’s puzzling to understand why Blinken even went, because other than paving the way for more face-to-face meetings between Biden and Xi, which will do nothing, there’s nothing there.”
Dialogue Is a ‘Trap’
Lawmakers such as Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who believes in the need for a tougher China stance, also take a dim view of the prospect of engaging with China.
“PRC [People’s Republic of China] diplomats told Secretary Blinken that the US must choose between cooperation with China and conflict,” Gallagher, chairman of the House Select Committee on the CCP, told The Epoch Times. “The CCP seeks to paint any competitive action that does not further its authoritarian vision as a provocation. The Biden Administration must push back against this insidious framing, and not-so-veiled threat.”
“Only one party seeks to upend the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait, only one party is committing genocide, only one party is militarizing islands in the South China Sea—the Chinese Communist Party.”
From the perspective of Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-Wis.), who sits on the Congressional Taiwan Caucus, the U.S. posture was no different from kowtowing to the Chinese leadership.
While Biden officials have often said they are engaging with China from a “position of strength,” Tiffany said he thinks “it certainly appears that we’re weaker” coming out of the meeting.
Such an approach “doesn’t deter Chinese aggression; it rewards and encourages it,” he told The Epoch Times.
Chang noted that in March, bidding farewell to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Xi had told the latter that they are the two driving forward “the change which hasn’t happened in 100 years.”
“That says that Xi Jinping thinks he’s already boss of the world,” Chang said. That mentality can be dangerous, he said, because the Chinese leadership appears to “believe that they can get away with anything they want.”
Xi had spoken slowly during the brief talk with Blinken. He told Blinken that Bejing won’t challenge and displace the United States and “hopes to see a sound and steady China–U.S. relationship.”
Navarro, though, cautioned that such language is a “trap,” serving only to advance the regime’s interests.
“That’s their strategy. They’ve been saying that for decades, that’s what they do,” he said. “They want to draw you in to endless negotiations that give them time to continue having their way with the American economy and the global geopolitical environment.”
“Dialogue to the Chinese is a weapon,” he said. “There’s nothing to negotiate, but we should stop talking to these people and simply take actions, and that will be the only thing that leads to meaningful change.”