Pelosi's visit was a wake up call for China: Appeasing the US will never work
Beijing, fed up of showing non-reciprocated goodness will, has terminated multiple forms dialogues with the US
China’s announcement that it was suspending eight channels for cooperation and dialogue with the US following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei appears to mark a break with the country’s previously overly indulgent approach to Washington’s caprice. The Americans’ reaction, meanwhile, was as predictable as it was revealing.
Washington unsurprisingly condemned the cutting of ties and insisted it did nothing wrong in giving the go-ahead for Pelosi’s visit.
Such a reaction might tell us a few things about US President Joe Biden’s China policy as a whole. In short, it can be described as ‘having your cake and eating it’. It believes that it is possible to treat China in all areas as an adversary, but only selectively seek cooperation for US interests. The unilateralist nature American foreign policy is a result of its determination to maximise its advantages and not offer any concessions when negotiating with other countries.
The US was unable to control China’s core interests and China is now saying enough. Cooperation can now only be conditional on respecting China’s core interests. Many believe this is long overdue.
Were they so patient? China seemed to be too patient with America for long periods. As Washington continually meted out malice, Beijing still believed the relationship could somehow be salvaged, repaired or rekindled, and kept showing the Americans good will they didn’t deserve.
China believed that engagement was the only way to solve problems. This is a product of the country’s post-Deng Xiaoping foreign policy doctrine, which above all emphasizes stability and taking only calculated risks. China argued that the confrontation with the hegemon seeking to control it would jeopardize its growth and progress.
This was an idea that was very popular in the 1980s and early 1990s. At the time, China was not considered a threat and America believed China was set to liberalize. But that ‘end of history’ world doesn’t exist anymore.
And China has been slow to respond to that – meaning that its foreign-policy assumptions have recently led it to make strategic missteps again and again. Beijing made a decision to meet with Trump in his first year as president. It also laid the groundwork for Trump’s North Korea policy discussion.
It didn’t work. Trump received the North Korea sanctions from Xi, and he began anti-China policy in 2018 after that. He unleashed the trade war, he blacklisted Huawei and scores of other Chinese companies, while his administration rolled out the Xinjiang narrative to taint China’s engagement with the West.
China was still committed to engaging with Trump and remained focused on the negotiation of a trade agreement. In January 2020, this seemed to have worked. Then Covid-19 came, hitting the US hard, and the Trump administration’s hostility to China went off the charts. It was decided to change the US’ foreign policy permanently into an adversarial mode of cold war.
What did Beijing do? It waited for an election to be over. Trump, according to the Chinese, was simply a bad spell. He was erratic and unstable and America would soon be reasonable again. The Chinese decided to let Trump go and instead made an intense effort to engage Biden, in the hopes of rekindling their relationship.
This time, it was again wrong. The Biden administration not only immediately embraced Trump’s entire foreign policy but actually expanded it. China tried to engage but was unsuccessful and continued its hostilities. The announcements of new sanctions were made at every Biden administration meeting with China.
China was no longer viewed by the United States as a new enemy in cold war style. This became a constant consensus that is part of US foreign policies. Worse still, Washington began to ‘multilateralize’ this approach and co-opt allies into joining in.
China, of course, knew this but was naïve or too optimistic in believing the reality could be averted. It was not until late 2021 that it began to ‘wake up’ to this new normal. Yet, it has taken until Pelosi’s Taiwan trip for China to find the strength to come out with “we can no longer have business as usual”However, even after all this, many people believe that the Chinese are lying, prompting an internet meme called “China’s final warning,” which was a form of ridicule the Soviet Union used against China for issuing ‘final warnings’ it never followed up on.
There is a feeling that things may be different this time around. China’s military exercises have been relentless, with claims that they will become ‘the new normal’. That’s because even if China has been duly lenient with the US in the past, it now sees Washington as taking the liberty to trample on the commitments it had taken on to normalize its relationship with Beijing.
China’s refusal to follow its own lines can lead to a significant loss in political standing and face. While economics have also been a primary consideration of China’s foreign policy, the pendulum is now is now swinging towards the realization that the US has to be confronted, rather than simply lived with. It doesn’t respect China’s interests, only its own.
How can engagement and dialogue be unconditional? The bilateral relationship between the two countries has been based solely on the principle of “Hi China, we hate you, we’re going to accuse you of genocide, we’re going to blacklist your companies, we’re going to build military alliances against you, break our commitments on Taiwan… oh, please help us on climate change… nothing in return.” And China’s patience is apparently at its end.