China poses the single greatest security challenge to the United States and our democratic allies, but President Joe Biden too often embraces half measures inadequate to the economic, diplomatic and military competition. All that plays too well into Beijing’s hand.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made clear that America objects to China’s mercantilist policies that weaken Western economies and stifle opportunities for our workers; to its gross human-rights abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang and democracy advocates in Hong Kong; and to the militarization of large swaths of the South China Sea and threatening actions toward Taiwan.
It’s time to stop pretending we can engage China or do business with a maniacal fascist on most issues.
Biden seeks to gird the U.S. economy with industrial policies embedded in his infrastructure plan. However, the funds allocated to the semiconductor industry and manufacturing pale by comparison to the all-government support Beijing bestows on Huawei and other national champions in the solar, electric vehicle and other industries.
As China and Russia muscle up, Biden offers the Pentagon a declining share of U.S. GDP that won’t keep up with inflation. And he bowed on defense to the hard left, who give priority to climate change and social justice ahead of national security, by passing over Michele Flournoy for defense secretary.
Flournoy has the clearest vision of the transformative changes in assets and strategies needed to address the risks posed by China in the Pacific, whereas Lloyd Austin has demonstrated little comparable understanding through his record, words or initial actions in office.
Biden seeks a coalition of democracies. However, for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan and other Trans-Pacific Partnership nations, disengaging and confronting China entails lost exports and jobs, and military vs. domestic spending trade-offs.
America can’t expect Japan, Germany and others to forgo market opportunities in China, while Biden acts so protectionist toward friend and foe alike. Our most potent option would be to offer our allies a Western free trade alliance by rejoining the TPP and quickly concluding trade agreements with the U.K. and European Union.
Biden’s many appeasements
Instead, Biden eschews new trade agreements, while China builds a less-formal trading block of its own in the Pacific and is seeking membership in the TPP. Once accomplished, Beijing could block U.S. membership and freeze out U.S. exports.
Biden appeases Black Lives Matters, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other radical progressives by not explicitly rejecting the 1619 narrative and critical race theory. He stocks his administration with appointees who meet the hard-left’s ideological and identity-politics litmus tests.
All this opens the field for Beijing’s aggressive foreign-policy narrative that tells the world America poses a false choice—Beijing offers a better system and a unifying path while America seeds divisions and suspicions. Beijing argues what it does internally to Muslims and other minorities is its own business, and its treatment of Hong Kong and Taiwan are within its sovereign discretion.
Beijing repeatedly calls out the United States for our treatment of blacks. BLM, OAC and the rest of the domestically focused hard left should be happy for the help.
The good news is that Antony Blinken is a skilled diplomat well capable of cultivating allies and privately focusing them on the hypocrisy of Beijing’s narrative. The bad news is like most who rise from the ranks at Foggy Bottom he is adverse to stating publicly compelling but discomforting truths.
If this were the 1920s, how Beijing treats Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan would be internal matters but since World War II and the U.N. Charter—which China has signed and should abide by—respect for human rights and self-determination are international obligations, not merely matters of domestic sovereign discretion. For its actions, Biden and Blinken should label China a terrorist state—that would better frame the issue for our allies and compel sanctions with teeth.
Since the Truman administration, our national policy has been to correct injustices toward blacks and dismantle systemic racism whereas as Secretary Mike Pompeo correctly stated, China’s national policy amounts to genocide. The Biden administration has restated that observation, and now it’s up to Blinken to charge that these deeds make President Xi culpable for crimes against humanity.
World leaders who enable him become Xi Jinping’s accomplices.
It’s time to stop pretending we can engage China or do business with a maniacal fascist on most issues. Sometime in this decade Beijing’s military may well cross the straights of Taiwan, and America must prepare for war or accept Chinese dominance in the Pacific—and perhaps throughout the world.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.