Weighing in from Hong Kong on the U.S. election, the South China Morning Post reports that according to a former U.S. ambassador to Beijing, China “would probably prefer a Joe Biden presidency.” That’s almost certainly true, but for reasons far more alarming than those given by the former U.S. diplomat quoted in the article — Max Baucus, who served as President Obama’s envoy to Beijing from 2014-2017, and is now an adviser to Biden’s presidential campaign.
In a “wide-ranging interview” with the SCMP, Baucus spelled out his assessment that China’s President Xi Jinping “wants stability, he doesn’t want to rock the boat.” Baucus elaborated: “In the Biden presidency, there’s more stability. You don’t see a president just on his Twitter account say whatever is on his mind in the middle of the night, or a president that doesn’t work with his advisers.”
Maybe that sounds good, but it’s profoundly misleading. China’s rulers love to laud “stability,” by which they basically mean that no one should dare challenge anything they do. It’s the grinding stability of communist power that they’re after, no matter how much that might destabilize anyone who resists. In the aftermath of the 1989 slaughter in Tiananmen, “stability” was one of the Chinese Communist Party’s favorite justifications for shooting protesters in Beijing. These days, Xi and his cadres have been lauding the “stability” they’ve achieved by locking up relays of China’s Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps, and annihilating liberty and rule of law in Hong Kong, while talking up preparations for war with the West.
Whatever Xi’s aversion to boat-rocking at home, China under his rule has been busy abroad rocking boats galore. Under Xi, China’s regime is pursuing large-scale plans, backed by rapidly expanding high-tech military capability, to overturn the U.S.-led liberal world order and replace it with a Beijing-centric system of CCP dominance. Having reneged wholesale this year on the rights and freedoms China promised for 50 years to Hong Kong, Beijing is aggressively threatening as a next step the military takeover of democratic, peaceful and stable Taiwan.
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Then there’s the coronavirus pandemic, in which China has stirred up landmark levels of instability in free societies around the globe — and just keeps stirring. Initially, China covered up the virus outbreak in Wuhan, failing to report it in timely manner, silencing doctors, hiding the highly contagious nature of the virus, fiddling data, rejecting U.S. offers of help and waiting until the virus had visibly and prolifically begun spreading abroad, before imposing lockdowns at home (while protesting President Trump’s travel ban). As other countries, including the U.S., began grappling with the spreading plague, China followed up with “wolf warrior” diplomacy, deceit and propaganda. Beijing’s officials tried to blame the Wuhan outbreak on the U.S., refused to allow access for any independent investigation into the origin of the pathogen, and imposed trade penalties on Australia for demanding answers. For many months now, China’s officials have been touting the disease-control capabilities of their totalitarian system, while taunting free societies over the distress unleashed by a disease that spread from China itself.
In this CCP scheme of the universe, any stability offered by Joe Biden would probably be quite welcome. Given the many architects of Obama’s foreign policy, now queued up to serve under Biden, there’s a good chance we’d see a throwback to the CCP-prized “stability” of the Obama presidency. In that instance, as Xi Jinping rose to power and began a dramatic acceleration of Beijing’s maneuvers toward global dominance, the U.S. administration talked about a “pivot” to Asia — which never took place. Xi might indeed welcome a return to such arrangements as Obama’s final presidential trip to China in September 2016. On that occasion, Obama flew to the Chinese city of Hangzhou for a G-20 Summit hosted by China, and China somehow omitted the red-carpet welcome provided to all the other world leaders, including Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. At the airport, there were no stairs for Obama to descend from the main door of Air Force One. Obama was left to climb down the little-used rear steps of the plane, an episode widely and probably correctly viewed as a brazen case of symbolism-fixated China snubbing the leader of the Free World.
In the interest of stability, Obama chose to downplay the incident. He went on to the G-20 meeting, hosted by Xi, where he presented the document representing America’s entry into the Paris climate deal — which Obama had signed himself, rather than presenting it for ratification as a treaty by the U.S. Senate (which would have refused to ratify). Whatever one’s views on climate, this deal effectively represented a tribute to China. The arrangement included huge near-term costs to the U.S., via drastic curbs on carbon emissions, while China deferred any serious sacrifice until at least 2030. Very expensive for America. Very stable…for China.
By contrast, President Trump has declined to deliver to Xi this brand of stability, with which for so many years previous U.S. administrations helped fuel the imperial plans and fill the coffers of the CCP. Nor is it accurate to sum up President Trump’s foreign policy as merely a matter of tweets, however erratic those have been. Look at what Trump’s done, not just what he tweets. Trump brought into his administration quite a number of officials who during the past year have been sounding clear, detailed, and consistent warnings about the behavior and ambitions of China’s CCP under Xi. Accurately describing the CCP as a Marxist-Leninist organization, they have been telling truths that no U.S. administration has dared lay out since before President Nixon’s rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China in 1971-72. For a terrific summary, here’s a recent article in Foreign Affairs, by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien on “How China Threatens American Democracy.” O’Brien details how the “CCP’s ideological agenda extends far beyond the country’s borders and represents a threat to the idea of democracy itself, including in the United States.” He describes ways in which “Across the globe, the CCP aims to spread propaganda, restrict speech and exploit personal data to malign ends.”
A single article such as this might be merely a wayward administration official, speaking his mind without coordinating anything with his boss or colleagues. But from the Trump administration there has been a profusion of such articles, speeches, press releases, and broad efforts to inform the American public, and the world, of the real and growing dangers posed by China. This past summer brought a quartet of speeches from O’Brien, FBI Director Christopher Wray, Attorney General William Barr, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, laying out the threats from China. They are all worth reading, specific, professional, and packed with information on just how genuinely dangerous a threat this is, as well as what the administration has been doing about it. (As O’Brien noted in Foreign Affairs, “The FBI opens a new case on Chinese economic espionage every ten hours.”) Deputy National Security Advisor Matt Pottinger has delivered speeches in Mandarin (with English subtitles), both warning the world, and speaking past the Chinese Communist Party to try to reach the people of China itself, explaining U.S. policy and telling them — a message I heard 31 years ago from Chinese protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square — that what evil most fears is “the truth.”
These speeches and statements have been backed up by actions. To name just a few: blocking Huawei’s campaign to wire America and the world in service of the CCP’s ambitions, rolling up China’s influence-buying and economic-spying operations in the U.S., shutting down Confucius Institutes, ferreting out the technology-transfer networks of China’s 1,000 Talents program, shutting down China’s spy-hub consulate in Houston; the list goes on. That kind of broad action in defense of America doesn’t happen without a green light from the top, and it didn’t happen under the policies of “stability” that China enjoyed under Obama and Biden.
We’re now hearing that there’s broad consensus among China experts — left, right, and middle — that China under the CCP poses a rising danger. But there is considerable disagreement over whether to revert to the old habits of “stability,” or carry on with Trump’s approach of rocking Xi’s boat. No great mystery which one Xi might prefer. Plenty is riding on what Americans now choose.