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Blinken’s meeting with China is a good start to Biden’s foreign policy

The Trump administration rightly highlighted China’s commercial espionage but lacked Biden’s disciplined, sustained strategic approach

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, listens as national security adviser Jake Sullivan, right, talks to the media after a closed-door morning session of U.S.-China talks in Anchorage, Alaska, on Friday, March 19, 2021.
Frederic J. Brown, Pool via Associated Press

The new Biden administration is taking first steps toward possible progress with China. On March 18, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with counterparts Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi.

These China officials are respectively the foreign minister and the director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of China’s Communist Party, as well as a member of the powerful Politburo of the party. Both assumed their senior posts in 2013.

Before the Alaska minisummit, Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spent several days in discussions with officials in Japan and South Korea. Both nations are today stable and strong representative democracies, with two of the most powerful and productive economies in the world.

The brutal Korean War of 1950 to 1953 cemented our strong alliance with each country. Japan provided a strategic base for troops, naval and air power, hospital facilities, and supplies and matériel of all kinds. South Korea returned the favor by providing substantial numbers of combat troops to support the long U.S. war in Vietnam.

In 1992, China’s leader Deng Xiaoping declared “People’s Socialism,” opening the economy and sparking national transformation. Yet China remains relatively closed politically, and Beijing grows increasingly harsh in punishing dissent.

Jack Ma, brilliant founder of Alibaba, a conglomerate comparable to Amazon, publicly criticized financial regulations. Harsh regulatory crackdowns followed, including a delay of the initial public stock offering of Ant, a financial affiliate of Alibaba.

Harsh repression of political freedom in Hong Kong is now in place.

We must continue to condemn this behavior. Specifically, U.S. policies should reinforce the important economic influence of democratic Taiwan. This island finances the economic revolution of China. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with Beijing has opened mainland markets directly to Taiwan.

An important component for handling conflict is the United Nations, in particular regarding China the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. The UN is the legacy of President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the U.S. and Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain. Commitment to the UN followed from the Newfoundland meeting of the two leaders, held off the Canada coast in August 1941 — historic, farsighted and poignant. This was months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, which aids poor nations, regularly held in Washington D.C., confirm strength of UN economic institutions and U.S. ties. Influence of developing nations, which China actively cultivate, is expanding. However, there is no longer the automatic anti-U.S., anti-West majority in the UN General Assembly characteristic of the Cold War.

This confirms the long-term wisdom of Anglo-American support for relatively open global economic relations, including assistance for poor countries seeking economic progress. Today, that means working through the UN, in particular the economic entities that mitigate trade and financial conflict.

The Trump administration rightly highlighted China’s commercial espionage, closely tied to ongoing strategic military expansion and ambitious international goals. However, that administration’s confrontational public rhetoric did not accompany a disciplined, sustained strategic approach that coordinated policy over time.

The Biden administration so far shows more discipline. The low-key trip by Blinken and Sullivan indicates serious, methodical diplomacy.

In ancient China, Sun Tzu described a patient, indirect strategic approach in his book “The Art of War.” Washington should overtly emulate that style, especially after the disruptive, erratic character of U.S. foreign policy over the past four years.

Learn more: Henry A. Kissinger, “On China”

Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact acyr@carthage.edu