Can Lead to War
By: Gordon G. Chang
November 16, 2021
President Joe Biden and Chinese ruler Xi Jinping concluded what the White House called a “virtual meeting,” initiated at America’s request. Monday night, for three-and-half hours, they exchanged pleasantries — Xi called the American leader “my old friend” and Biden remarked they had “never been that formal with one another” — and, as usual for summits between the two countries, China came out far ahead.
China’s Communist Party has been, in a real sense, attacking America.
ü Beijing, for instance, took steps that spread COVID-19 beyond China’s borders;
ü Chinese “money brokers” are enabling Mexican-based gangs selling China’s fentanyl;
ü Chinese hackers and government agencies are engaging in a determined effort to steal U.S. technology and trade secrets;
ü China’s military, reportedly sending social media riot-instruction videos, fomented violence on American streets.
The attack on American society has been relentless and ferocious.
“I think that both countries want to bring down the temperature,” said Eurasia’s Group Ali Wyne to the New York Times. Of course, China wants to calm the waters so that it is not held accountable. But it should be Biden’s job to turn up the heat, to stop Beijing’s injurious actions.
During the course of decades, Beijing has delayed American action by conducting fruitless negotiations and making promises of more talk. Washington policymakers were, by one means or another, seduced. “After a while, meeting with Chinese leaders and senior officials became a goal in itself of American foreign policy,” the Times reported.
Beijing was also able to delay America’s actions by raising the specter of “a new Cold War.” While it was warning about the division of the international community, Beijing was waging what two Chinese air force colonels termed “Unrestricted Warfare” in their 1999 book. Chinese leaders deny they maintain such an effort, but it is hard to describe their efforts in any other way.
China is also fighting a real war. In May of last year, for instance, it moved its army south of the Line of Actual Control in the Himalayan region of Ladakh — in other words, into disputed but Indian-controlled territory. On the following June 15, China launched a surprise attack, killing 20 Indian troopers.
There are, in addition, now Chinese encroachments in India’s Sikkim and in the independent states of Nepal and Bhutan. China has been pursuing a long-term strategy of controlling the South China Sea by seizing islands and other features there and turning some into military bases. The Chinese air force has been implementing a provocative campaign of flying through Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone and, contrary to agreements with Taipei, flying east of the median line in the Taiwan Strait.
The U.S. is not obligated by treaty to defend any of these countries, but China is also trying to break apart Japan, and the U.S. has a mutual-defense pact with that nation. China has been pressuring Japan by sending its planes and vessels into Japanese-controlled airspace and waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing claims and calls the Diaoyus.
While China is moving against neighbors, Russia is also roiling adjacent states. Vladimir Putin has now massed almost 100,000 troops on the Ukraine border, threatening a full-scale invasion to take the parts of that country he did not grab and annex in 2014. Moreover, in a move targeting a NATO member, Moscow is behind the effort of Belarus targeting Poland.
Two large states, therefore, are threatening to redraw borders by force — and they probably are not acting independently. China and Russia coordinate external policies and often their militaries; Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in July said they’re “not allies but better than allies.”
And it is not just the two large aggressors that America has to worry about. Once either of these large states, intentionally or accidentally, starts a conflict, their proxies could, in coordination or on their own, take advantage of the situation by moving against their victims as well. Thus, North Korea could take on South Korea, Iran could target Israel, Pakistan could go after India, or Algeria invade Morocco.
Unlikely? Unfortunately, America’s deterrence of China is breaking down. Beijing since mid-March has talked repeatedly about how it can do what it likes because America is no longer in a “position of strength.”
Biden, in comments opening Monday’s meeting, gave no hint he was aware that Beijing and Moscow might be coordinating acts of aggression or that conflict could spread from one region to the next. As a result of a failure to appreciate — and confront — risks, the world could see simultaneous conflicts on both ends of the Eurasian landmass and across North Africa.
Biden said he wanted to maintain dialogue so that neither China nor the U.S. would “veer into conflict.”
Conflicts are not the result of the absence of conversation, however. They start when democracies waste time in meaningless talk. The world heard meaningless talk Monday night.