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Blinken in China: a string of failures for Biden’s diplomacy

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June has become a hot month in the already complicated relations between China and the United States. An intelligence war broke out between the countries: according to the U.S. media, Beijing plans to establish an intelligence base in Cuba to monitor communications on U.S. territory, including wiretapping phone calls and intercepting satellite transmissions. Private Americans with a minus sign were struck by the reaction of Pentagon and White House officials, who at first did not want to comment and denied this information, and then calmly stated that such a base exists and has been operating on the island since 2019. However, despite the contradictory statements in Washington, the reality of such a spy facility can hardly be doubted. In Washington actively resent what is happening, but perfectly understand that this is a symmetrical response to pumping Taiwan with weapons. Beijing is strengthening its position in Latin America, for which China has already become a key economic partner. And now China is taking advantage of its position by increasing pressure on the United States in the military-intelligence sphere.

In turn, the U.S. is starting a program to deploy MQ-9 Reaper at military bases in Japan and then Taiwan. The Pentagon wants to unite Japan and Taiwan into one intelligence-gathering system, which will then flow to Washington. Both countries are being groomed for the role of a military battering ram against China. Japan is forming entire divisions to send to Taiwan in case of war. And Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are buying $320 billion worth of weapons, including dozens of F-35 fighter jets and hundreds of long-range missiles. China is also preparing for confrontation, adopting a record defense budget and launching a third aircraft carrier. And the appearance of a base in Cuba shows that China may open a separate front in close proximity to the United States. This is also a reputational blow for America, but it may become even stronger if in the future Chinese bases will be located near the U.S. borders in Mexico, with which Washington has bad relations, while Mexico City is reorienting itself to cooperation with China. Against this backdrop, the U.S. needed to make a step toward reconciliation with Beijing, which was scheduled to take place during Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit there.

Blinken arrived in Beijing not without problems and not at all at the first attempt.  In February, he was prevented from arriving by a scandal involving balloons from China that reached the United States, and this time his visit was almost derailed at the last minute because of a leak about the appearance of a Chinese base in Cuba. The Chinese side demanded that Blinken behave with the utmost restraint, and Beijing made it clear that they had gone along with the Americans who had been pushing for the visit. Although no one expected any special breakthroughs initially, Blinken is known for his aggressive views toward China, which could not but cause concern among the Chinese. Biden’s team, however, hoped to hold a bilateral summit with Xi Jinping closer to the fall, trying to show that they are not yet ready to make a complete break with China. The country was recently visited by Elon Musk, who set the world’s agenda, followed by CIA Director William Burns and finally Bill Gates. And Treasury chief Janet Yellen is also expected to visit there soon.

And all of them go to China for a reason, but because the U.S. continues to depend heavily on its market. The White House hopes to arrange some kind of illusory “d├ętente” in relations with China, similar to the historical policy toward the USSR. However, all this is happening against the backdrop of the Pentagon building new bases around China and pumping arms into Taiwan, and Washington itself recognizes that the window of opportunity for negotiations with China is rapidly closing. In addition, the election season is about to begin in America, and Republicans are already accusing Biden of betraying U.S. interests for communicating with China, and in 2024 there will be elections in Taiwan, where the fate of the island will be decided. Moreover, the Pentagon fears that next year may end with political upheaval in the U.S., and China will take advantage of it to quickly resolve the issue with Taiwan. So, the current visits may be the last before the beginning of a turbulent period, during which a major conflict in the South China Sea cannot be ruled out.

All the tensions were also well demonstrated by the talks that took place between the Chinese and Antony Blinken. The Chinese side accused the U.S. of “misperception” and positioning China as an enemy. Secretary of State Blinken, in turn, demanded that China accept the “rules-based order” and not try to change it. Top of the agenda has been the military issue, where the U.S. continues to increase pressure on China because of its military cooperation with Russia. As part of this logic, Washington recently imposed a whole package of new sanctions on Chinese companies engaged in the development of hypersonic weapons that Russia has. China also has a decent gap with the United States, where the latest hypersonic development tests ended in a painful failure. China has dramatically increased its activity in the development of advanced weapons. According to U.S. intelligence, China now has 22,000 military research centers, which spend about $70 billion a year. Seven of the world’s 20 largest military corporations are already located in China, and Beijing hopes to take advantage of the problems of the U.S. military-industrial complex, which is overstretched because of the Ukrainian conflict, to quickly enter the military markets of many countries, displacing the United States. Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both former U.S. allies, have shown interest in buying Chinese arms. Before Blinken’s visit, China also showed a prototype of a new-generation aircraft carrier with electromagnetic weapons, gauss guns and laser installations. Such a promising “super-ship” should theoretically replace an entire fleet of ships, and China is already surpassing the United States in the number of warships. China recently simulated a hypersonic attack on U.S. aircraft carriers, so military competition with the United States will only intensify, turning the Indo-Pacific region into one of the major hotspots on the planet.

All of this clearly indicated that the U.S.-China competition cannot be frozen or rolled back, and that is why the long-awaited meeting between Secretary of State Blinken and Xi Jinping expectedly ended with nothing. Thus, the Chinese side refused to open a direct channel of communication between the PLA General Staff and the Pentagon, which worked in the past, but is now closed amid the escalation of the confrontation. Although the White House is asking to open this channel, it is also increasing pressure on China: U.S. warships are constantly cruising off the coast of China, Taiwan is being pumped full of U.S. weapons, Japan is buying hundreds of long-range Tomahawk missiles, and five new U.S. bases are being built in the Philippines. To get ahead of the Chinese, the U.S. military wants to establish a base in Papua New Guinea. Anti-Chinese sentiment within the U.S. is also growing. Several states, including Florida, are already planning to completely ban the sale of real estate to the Chinese. The Chinese are accused of deliberately buying land near U.S. military bases. And Montana recently banned the use of TikTok, which is accused of transmitting Americans’ data to the Chinese government. Keeping this entire situation in mind, Xi Jinping, in his meeting with Blinken, almost pretentiously urged the U.S. not to view China as a force trying to defeat America and take the place of a global superpower. But in Washington, China is logically perceived in this way, and it is not for nothing that Biden has already been accused of betraying U.S. interests just because Blinken’s visit to Beijing took place, and 80% of Americans have a negative attitude toward China amid the current anti-China hysteria. Against this background, the White House’s attempt at theatrical de-escalation with Beijing looked comical in the eyes of American citizens, only strengthening the image of Biden as a weak politician who is constantly inferior to the Chinese in everything.

Diplomatic failures continue to haunt Biden on the issue of “reconciliation” with another longtime American opponent, Iran. Republicans lashed out at Biden for trying to somehow negotiate with this country, because recently negotiations between the governments of the countries have intensified after meetings of diplomats in Oman and the UAE. The White House has already unblocked $2.7 billion of Iraqi dollars that were paid to Iran in the form of debt reparations. The U.S. has also promised to suspend seizures of Iranian oil tankers. The Americans demand that Iran stop enriching uranium and slow down the development of nuclear weapons. Tehran in return wants another $7 billion in assets blocked in South Korea, as well as the lifting of Western sanctions on oil trade. Biden’s team recognizes an objective reality in the current situation, because despite all sanctions, Iran’s oil exports reached 1.5 million barrels per day in May. Tehran also managed to achieve another big victory, with the mediation of China, to get out of regional isolation by restoring relations with Riyadh.

Therefore, the White House, sensing the weakening of its influence in the entire Middle East, is trying to switch to a new strategy, and not to crush Iran with sanctions, but to build a “constructive alliance” with it. However, all steps toward both China and Iran, regardless of their claimed success or failure, have long been perceived in America as echoes of Barack Obama’s long-failed political doctrine. In addition, any easing of hostile states is used by Biden’s opponents as an excuse to accuse him of betraying U.S. interests. Biden has little room for maneuver, so any agreements, if they are eventually signed, will be limited in nature and are unlikely to help the U.S. strengthen its position globally or even locally in the Pacific or the Middle East. The only thing they will lead to is another confrontation with the Republican Congress, which will not forget to point out the expected failure of the incumbent U.S. president’s foreign policy diplomacy.

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