The Biden administration continues to heat up the new Cold War with bellicose threat, unfounded accusations, and fulfilled promises of a more multilateral approach against China
The US-led aggression against China, termed by some to be “A New Cold War”, is advancing with much of the same fervor of President Biden’s notably belligerent predecessor. Biden is even being called Trump 2.0 on China. He has kept many of the Trump-era tariffs, continued military exercises in the South China Sea, and is employing a more sophisticated and diplomatic approach to galvanize and organize US allies against China. Top Republicans and Democrats alike have fed into this campaign of paranoid distrust towards China, like with the recent passage of a bill targeting imports from China’s Xinjiang region over unfounded claims of human rights abuses.
This campaign of aggression appears to have had a direct impact on US public opinion about China. A Gallup Poll released in March found that 45% believe that China is “the greatest enemy of the US.” A July Pew Research poll reported that 73% of US respondents hold negative attitudes toward China, largely a result of their belief that China is responsible for the coronavirus, another myth that has been perpetuated by the Biden administration and elected officials on both sides of the aisle.
Facing year two of the coronavirus pandemic, worsening climate disaster, and historic inequality, the Biden administration inherited a patchwork of crises to grapple with this year. While this milieu of problems at home continues to spiral, Biden has intensified a concerted effort of imperialist aggression and propaganda against one key target abroad: China. The Biden orientation has stood in contrast to Trump in terms of employing a more multilateral approach but the objective has remained the same.
Here is a round-up of the most notable moments in the past year in US policy on China.
1. Billions for military build up
The year began with a bloated Pentagon budget of $738 billion, larger than the military budgets of the next 13 countries together, and four times the size of China’s. Former Admiral Philip Davidson (who resigned in late April) submitted a request to Congress for an additional $27.3 billion for the Indo-Pacific Command (INDPACOM). This amount alone is more than the military budget of Brazil.
Davidson is a known anti-China war hawk. At his resignation in April, he emphasized, “Make no mistake, the Communist Party of China seeks to supplant the idea of a free and open international order with a new order, one with Chinese characteristics, one where Chinese national power is more important than international law.”
Admiral John Aquilino is the new leader of the INDPACOM and has continued this hardline on China. Just last month at the Halifax International Security Forum, he urged allied military and security force leaders to join the US in more joint military exercises. He didn’t explicitly mention China in his speech but did so in his comments to journalists.
Aquilino rang the alarm, implying China has no right to have a military presence around it’s own borders, “Look at what the Chinese have said. President Xi [Jinping] has tasked his forces to be at a level of military parity with the United States by 2027.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command spans 34 countries equaling 60% of the world’s population. Its aim is to base over 70% of US overseas military forces in the Asia/Pacific region.
2. US-China talks doused in hostility
In March, the first major summit between top Chinese and Biden administration officials took place in Anchorage, Alaska. The talks were regarded as largely unsuccessful in easing tensions between the two nations, with both sides accusing the other of human rights abuses and doubling down on their opposition concerning the status of Taiwan.
Long-time Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi rebuked the US use of “military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries.” He called out “US interference in China’s internal affairs” and pledged that China would “take firm actions in response.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded the summit stating that the two nations are “fundamentally at odds.”
The US went the extra mile to set a contentious tone for the summit, guised under abandoning the Trump-era unilateral policy of “America First.” In a push for multilateralism, the US organized a virtual summit with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as “the Quad,” a loose alliance between Australia, India and Japan. Formerly a coalition to address the humanitarian disaster following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the Quad was brought back to life under Obama as part of his “Pivot to Asia.” The Trump administration made the Quad a central piece of the new Cold War on China.
In the week leading up to the talks, the Biden administration held meetings with high-level leaders in Japan and South Korea with the implicit goal to bring its allies into a united front against China. Both countries function as critical partners in the military encirclement of China, with about 50,000 US troops stationed in Japan and another 30,000 in South Korea. The US partnered with both nations to carry out military exercises in the weeks leading up to the Alaska summit. To top it off, the US imposed sanctions on 24 top-level Chinese officials just two days before the talks.
3. Global powers convene and play war games
The theme of a multilateral approach to China continued at the G7 summit and subsequent NATO meeting in June. At the G7, the informal grouping of the world’s largest economies, the US pushed for a more hostile orientation towards China and Russia. In a joint communique, the G7 nations called on China to respect “the rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.” It also demanded that China “respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang”
The statement also made claims of human rights abuses in Hong Kong and called for an investigation into the unhinged theory that COVID was man-made in a Chinese lab.
The G7 countries expressed their desire for “peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.” The statement read, “We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions.”
In response, the Chinese Embassy in the UK stated, “basic norms of international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, not the so-called rules formulated by a small number of countries.”
At the NATO summit, the same leaders made statements on this “rules-based international order,” emphasizing that China’s “stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges” to said order.
That order only seems to be for adversaries of the NATO countries to follow, as they conduct joint-military exercises across the South China Sea. Around the time of the summits, the UK sent its largest aircraft carrier to the South China Sea to participate. Just a few weeks ago, the US Seventh Fleet commander called for more aircraft carriers to encircle China in the South China Sea.
4. Accusations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang unravel
Dubious claims that the Chinese government is committing human rights abuses including forced labor and genocide against Uyghurs in the province of Xinjiang have been given a tremendous platform under Biden. This allegation has been purported to be a fact and used to levy sanctions, freeze assets, and impose travel bans on high-ranking Chinese officials by the US, EU, the UK, and Canada. The US State Department has relied on the work of Adrian Zenz, a far-right wing religious fanatic, who believes that he is being “led by God” on a “mission” to end the Chinese government. His work has been found to be riddled with data manipulation and statistical errors.
The first “independent” report on the situation in Xinjiang released in March heavily cited Zenz’s work along with a host of other US-backed lobbying firms and propaganda outlets. The report was published by the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which is led by a long list of former US State Department officials, military consultants and intelligence experts. The Newlines Institute’s parent institution is Fairfax University of America (FXUA), formerly called Virginia International University, and has a reputation shrouded in scandals with several efforts to get it shut down. US Department of Education statistics found that there were only 153 students registered at FXUA in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called the accusations of genocide a “thorough lie,” mentioning that the population of the Xinjiang province has doubled in the last four decades and the GDP of the region has grown over 200 percent in the same time. Yi has repeatedly invited foreign delegates to visit Xinjiang, including representatives from the UN Human Rights panel.
Despite the shoddiness of the charges, both ruling parties in the US are on board to shun companies in Xinjiang on accusations of forced labor. Last week, the White House press secretary confirmed that President Biden would sign a ban on goods from the Xinjiang region into law, adding that the White House had also banned products made by specific solar panel manufacturing companies based in Xinjiang.
As previously reported at Peoples Dispatch, a third of the world’s textiles and clothing come from China. Xinjiang is the center of the nation’s cotton production, most of which is sold to Western apparel companies. Xinjiang government officials have disputed claims of forced labor in the cotton production industry, saying that most of the field labor has been replaced by machines, largely purchased from the US company John Deere.
5. AUKUS: pact to counter China
In September, the US and its allies took the multilateral approach to the next level with the formation of AUKUS, “a new enhanced trilateral security partnership” between Australia, the UK and the US. Despite not mentioning China by name in the announcement, its emphasis on the Indo-Pacific was regarded as thinly-veiled code for China. Australian arms deals seem to be the central tenet of the pact, with Prime Minister Morrison stating that the “first major initiative of AUKUS will be to deliver a nuclear-powered submarine fleet for Australia.” This has effectively cancelled the pre-existing order of diesel-fueled submarines Australia had with France. Australia must now rely on US and UK manufacturers to get their desired fleet. The sale might be a violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Australia has demonstrated its readiness to step up as a junior partner of the US in the Cold War agenda. On September 16, it released a joint statement with the US mentioning Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Two days later, the head of the China Desk at Australia’s Defense Intelligence Organization penned an article in Australia’s leading newspaper, stating that Australia should “facilitate a coup within China’s Communist Party.” His belligerent words speak to the insidious nature of AUKUS.
6. The Taiwan powder keg
The US has continued to go out of its way to support “Taiwanese independence” and ramp up its military presence along the Strait of Taiwan. Last year, the US signed two weapons deals with Taiwan totaling USD 2.4 billion, prompting China to sanction a host of US weapons manufacturers. US attempts to militarize Taiwan and play war games on the Strait have continued nonetheless. The US and UK spent this summer increasing their number of aircraft carrier strike forces across the Strait of Taiwan and the South China Sea.
In October, the Wall Street Journal exposed how US special operations forces and marines have been secretly training Taiwanese troops since 2020. Before the revelation, the US issued a statement claiming its right to “defend” Taiwan. The US instigated tensions even more by inviting Taiwan to it’s Summit on Democracy held on December 9-10, widely-noted for leaving out China and Russia on the list of invitees. At the Summit, the US announced its diplomatic boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
The idea that China and Taiwan are one territory, known as the One China policy, has remained fundamental to the country’s diplomatic relations. The Communist Party of China sees the reunification of its territories as critical to overcoming the remnants of the “the Century of Humiliation,” referring to the period of British and Japanese colonialism. The Chinese constitution states, “Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China. It is the lofty duty of the entire Chinese people, including our compatriots in Taiwan, to accomplish the great task of reunifying the motherland.”
At an October gathering to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution, President Xi Jinping made clear his administration’s stance on the issue of Taiwan succession. He emphasized, “Compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Straits should stand on the right side of history and join hands to achieve China’s complete reunification and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
As the year comes to end, tensions between the world’s two great powers are unlikely to cool down anytime soon. The US attempts to position itself as a global leader of democracy and fairness, while its policies continue to demonstrate just the opposite. The possibility of this new Cold War turning hot is an existential threat for the entire planet. Opposing further escalation between the US and China remains the imperative duty of all who value global peace and stability.
This was originally published on Peoples Dispatch.
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