America should have walked away from its meeting with China

China’s eventual reactions to its first in-person encounter with Biden administration officials remain to be seen, but the earliest indications are anything but promising. In particular, it’s all too possible that the Chinese interpreted Blinken and Sullivan’s response to their Day One propaganda diatribe just as Khrushchev interpreted Kennedy’s decision to engage him in inevitably futile philosophical and historical debates at Vienna—as a sign of indiscipline and tactical ineptitude. Blinken and Sullivan would have been far better advised to stand up, thank the Chinese again for traveling all the way to Anchorage, ask that they let them know as soon as they were serious about talking business, and leave the room.

More concretely, Beijing’s emissaries showed no indication of believing the Blinken-Sullivan claim that the Biden administration’s efforts to reinvigorate America’s alliance relations enabled Washington to deal with China from a “position of strength.” As Yang Jiechi, the Communist Party’s foreign affairs chief, pointedly reminded, “Secretary Blinken, you said you just came back from Japan and {South Korea]. Those two countries are China’s second and the third largest trading partners. [The Association of Southeast Asian Nations] has now become China’s largest trading partner, overtaking the European Union and the United States.” Yang might have added that the EU, which recently signed a major investment agreement with China over Sullivan’s pre-inauguration protestations, is equally unlikely in Beijing’s eyes to cooperate meaningfully with Washington to confront the People’s Republic.

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