Imaginary Enemies Descend Into A Real Fight

THE QUESTION THAT US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s two-day visit to Tianjin poses in this Bystander’s mind is this: is it is a sign of progress that she was handed a list of demands for changes in the United States’ behaviour towards China rather than receiving a similar message in an extended tirade, as Yang Jiechi, the country’s top foreign policy official, delivered when he met her boss, Tony Blinken in Anchorage in March?

Beijing’s three demands are familiar: no slandering or demonizing China, no obstruction of China’s development and no infringement on China’s sovereignty. All three conditions need to be met to prevent China-U.S. relations from deteriorating further — or worse — according to Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

A second list contained specific issue demands such as lifting Trump-era trade tariffs continued by Biden and dropping the extradition case against Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer, Ming Wanzhou.

Even if any or all of the demands on either list was acceptable to the Biden administration — and none are — being delivered like that would make them DOA in Washington.

There seems little hope at this point of fulfilling Wang’s wish:

That the US side will have an objective and correct understanding of China, abandon arrogance and prejudice, stop acting as a preacher, and return to a rational and pragmatic China policy.

The US State Department’s post-visit statement was no less blunt:

The Deputy Secretary raised concerns in private – as we have in public – about a range of PRC actions that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies and partners, and that undermine the international rules-based order. In particular, she raised our concerns about human rights, including Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; abuses in Tibet; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press. She also spoke about our concerns about Beijing’s conduct in cyberspace; across the Taiwan Strait; and in the East and South China Seas.

Which just tramples on all China’s red lines.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian made that amply clear in his version of the discussions:

Apart from expounding on its principle position on China-US relations, and requiring the US side to change its extremely wrong perception and dangerous policy toward China, China once again expressed strong dissatisfaction with the US side over its wrong words and deeds on issues relating to COVID-19 origin-tracing, Taiwan, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea, urging the US side to immediately stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, stop damaging the interests of China, stop crossing the red lines and playing with fire, and stop seeking bloc confrontation under the guise of values. The US should never underestimate the strong resolution, determination and capability of the 1.4 billion Chinese people to safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.

It is easy to draw a straight line between the diplomacy in Anchorage and that in Tianjin. Beijing is ready to go toe-to-toe with Washington in public, and hoping to make its impatience with ‘the bossy United States’ work in its favour.

It is difficult to see the Biden administration being moved by that, any more than Beijing would be were the shoe on the other foot.

When elephants dance, it is the grass that gets trampled, as the Vietnamese proverb has it.

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