Impatience With China
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 17, 2021
Why are we so impatient in demanding that every issue, however complex, be resolved in under 10 minutes?
Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping spent nearly four hours on a much-anticipated Zoom session on Monday just to re-introduce themselves to one another and to list out areas where the United States and China have serious disagreement — that list is long — and where there are topics of common concern.
Yet, from the news coverage, the tone throughout was one of disappointment — or extended caution — that there were no immediate announcements of some diplomatic breakthroughs on topics as diverse as human rights, international trade and business practices, the increased brushes among our military and security touches, pressures from North Korea’s nuclear ambition, and the coming showdown over Taiwan’s future as an independent nation.
Fox News even headlined that the tele-summit failed to deliver any results, as if that was even an expectation, and focused instead on how Xi greeted Biden as “old friend,” and Biden noted that they know each other well, but retorted that Xi is no friend. Breitbart News merely used the summit as a foil to accuse Biden as favoring China.
Administration officials specifically had said there would be no big announcements.
In the tensions of our current world, a pledge that promises improved cooperation and better communication, even without concrete goals, is a step ahead.
Indeed, it may be much more important that the United States itself can achieve domestic cooperation and better communication among competing factions — and that this country can determine exactly what it wants from China that crosses partisan slogans. There’s plenty in that contention that Fox and others can critique as failures.
Progress by Teaspoon
Hey, it was teeny progress spooned from the ocean of contention that the lists of disagreements from both sides matched, though U.S. grievances over human rights are perceived as unwarranted intrusion in China, or that only that sparring over Taiwan’s future needs to stay on this side of actual war.
Nevertheless, it remained unclear how direct any of the conversations about the sharper points of disagreement were.
Nothing said across Zoom connections could suddenly end trade imbalances or stop Chinese aggressiveness in establishing footholds around the world or restrain the contentious military testing going on in the South China Sea. Announcements from summits of joint new cooperative programs only follow months of staff work on both sides to outline agreements well before they are announced.
In this case — as we should be noting for other areas of both international and domestic contentiousness — the sides have not been talking in worthwhile ways for months. Meanwhile, China expects a kind of deference in its authoritarian ways whether they are talking about hosting the Winter Olympics without acknowledging their campaign against Uighurs and others or insisting that the moment is nearing to reclaim Taiwan as part of the greater China.
Still, there are areas like climate, curbing North Korea, a more stable approach to tariffs and trade, where there should be avenues to common concern. China ought to be able to host international scientists to determine the origins of covid without the overlay of Chinese government authoritarianism.
We can all wonder why Biden, who is dealing with serious domestic division, and Xi, who has just grabbed uncontested leadership of his country for another five years at minimum, feel that a new Cold War is the best path ahead.
Our Immediacy Addiction
We see signs everywhere of our addiction to immediacy.
Cable television and social media live on and keep feeding the need for immediate response, whether we even know or understand the news or development that is fueling the reaction.
We need a decision on Steve Bannon’s prosecution on contempt of Congress charges right now, we need court decisions that affirm our views about race, violence, guns, and protest in Kenosha even before testimony in the Karl Rittenhouse trial ends. We want a full revisit of the events of Jan. 6 and the Charlottesville racist rally unraveled by this afternoon, while Donald Trump fans want immediate and continuing explorations of election frauds and the unraveling of the Steele dossier.
We want gas prices fixed now, and we’ve had it with covid. So, we want to throw out this set of politicians for ideological alternatives as if one or the other can control prices or disease contagion.
The U.S.-China questions are complex and layered with diplomatic, financial, military, and social concerns. The idea that a single tele-meeting could resolve anything is simply ludicrous.
Trump unilaterally imposed U.S. mandates in the relationship over trade, for example, but those simply ended up raising U.S. prices for Chinese-made goods and ruined international markets for U.S. farmers. Insistence that the U.S. dictate to the world again shows that there has been little to no change in Chinese policies in areas that concern us the most — not on Taiwan, not human rights, not business practices, not world aggressiveness.
Holding Biden to that same standard of U.S. dictate on dozens of areas of disagreement doesn’t fix anything.