Predictably, the Alaska talks ruffled American feathers while failing to ‘reset’ relations, as the Biden administration had hoped. Rather, they set the tone for a troubled future — one that is growing in hostility between the two superpowers.
The communist Chinese smell a weakened United States. That was patently obvious at last week’s U.S.-China meeting in Anchorage, Alaska. The chances of a war with China appear to increase thanks to the pretext of the exchange of harsh words and allegations of racism, an effort to fan Chinese nationalism.
As many in the West cringed while watching the video of President Joe Biden stumbling up the stairs to Air Force 1, the Chinese were in Anchorage saying there was a „strong smell of gunpowder” in the air, one of the words Beijing uses when it is contemplating war. The symbolism is stark and telling.
The Chinese „gunpowder” statement was intended to be divisive, a reminder of past white exploitation of China in the 19th-century Opium War, whipping up Chinese nationalist sentiment and making her neighbors anxious. The communist dictators are clearly feeling their oats and testing the Biden administration.
At the Alaska conference, Yang Jiechi, China’s chief diplomat, used prepared comments to scold the U.S. by blasting it for racist policies and even mentioned Black Lives Matter, an unexpected frontal assault on the American delegation. Obviously, Beijing is watching the U.S. administration’s response to an array of domestic troubles that began last summer with the George Floyd race riots, and it smells blood in the water.
The Chinese delegation’s race allegation was intended to portray Beijing as the protector of all Asians as opposed to America’s failure to protect minorities. Also, its media mouthpiece, the Global Times, ran a long article the same day (March 18) entitled „Elite US Groups Accomplices of Crimes Against Asian Americans.” That piece was palpably race-baiting and effective.
The Times’ article reminded the Chinese reader of the lethal shootings of Asian-Americans last week at three massage and spa parlors in Atlanta and then called out an alleged „surge in anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes directed at Asian Americans.” Those incidents, wrote the Times, are evidence of a widening social division, which it labeled „deepening Sinophobia.” One can almost feel Chinese nationalism rising as they read about the racist Americans.
Team Biden failed to deflect the race-related criticism at the Alaska bilateral conference. Rather, secretary of state Antony Blinken laid out the predictable challenges to Chinese behavior in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan, but his finger-wagging paled rhetorically in comparison to Beijing’s long list of accusations against American aggressive international actions and the domestic race problems mentioned above. Besides, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian fanned nationalism at home when he feigned offense in responding to Secretary Blinken’s human rights accusations as evidence of American „condescension.”
Predictably, the Alaska talks ruffled American feathers while failing to „reset” relations, as the Biden administration had hoped. Rather, they set the tone for a troubled future — one that is growing in hostility between the two superpowers. What’s especially clear is that statements by both sides were really targeted at domestic audiences such as the Biden administration’s message that it wasn’t weak on China, a sign to the home front as well as to allies and partners. However, it’s pretty obvious that the Chinese rejected that view and in fact are pushing back and hard, fanning nationalism at home at our expense.
On the same day as the Chinese were offering up a rebuke of the U.S. in Alaska, deputy defense secretary Kathleen Hicks spoke at the National Defense University saying that Beijing represents „a threat to regional peace and stability, and to the rules based international order on which our security and prosperity, and those of our allies, depend.”
Ms. Hicks, who spoke virtually from the Pentagon, said Beijing „has demonstrated increased military confidence and a willingness to take risks, and it has adopted a more coercive and aggressive approach to the Indo-Pacific region.” She continued by citing examples in which „Beijing escalated tensions between itself and a number of its neighbors,” such as Australia and Vietnam. She concluded, „I believe that the [communist Chinese are] the pacing challenge for the United States military.”
What’s clear is that U.S.-China relations under Mr. Biden have a rocky future, mostly because the powers in Beijing assessed the new American administration and found it weak. Evidently, President Xi Jinping sized up Mr. Biden before the Alaska meeting and concluded he’s no Donald Trump. Rather, the 78-year-old American president is a weak adversary, given the stairs incident, his never-ending stream of verbal gaffes, and his long absences from the public eye. Further, the pre-planned use of the race card is especially helpful to Mr. Xi because it evokes Chinese nationalist memories of Imperial Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, the 1930s Japanese effort to fan Asian racial strife against Western whites — another strategic step to psychologically prepare the Chinese people for likely future confrontations with America.
Further, as Beijing stoked nationalism with its racial allegations, here in Washington, Ms. Hicks soberly reminded us that that Beijing is „a threat to regional peace and stability.” Her boss, defense secretary Lloyd Austin said while in India last Friday that the U.S. and her allies „have a lot to look forward to as together we address global security challenges and engage in a long-term strategic competition with China.” Clearly, that „competition” is accelerating and getting rather ugly and threatening.
The combined perception of a weakened U.S. leader, our weakened domestic situation, and our lack of significant forward stationed manpower and firepower may indicate to President Xi that he can further consolidate power and muscle his way against our Indo-Pacific allies. If true, then I anticipate that the chances of an assault against Taiwan, a tougher stand in the South China Sea, and perhaps a quick annexation of Hong Kong are all a little more likely today than this time last week. You see, the communist Chinese tested the U.S. administration in Alaska and found it lacking in the willpower to push back against strong Chinese rhetoric, a test was the pretext for the next step, the use of real „gunpowder” in places we are unprepared to go.
Mr. Maginnis is a retired U.S. Army officer and the author of Alliance of Evil: Russia, China, the United States and a New Cold War. His new book, Give Me Liberty, Not Marxism, comes out this spring and chronicles the Marxist threat and how China seeks to radically transform America.