The highlight of the US–China meeting in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18 was a 20-minute (including translation) lecture that China’s senior official Yang Jiechi gave to the United States. In his talk, Yang not only vented his anger by criticizing the U.S. for its own human rights problems, warmongering, and cyber-attacks, but, more importantly, he told his American counterparts sitting across the table that Beijing has no respect for the U.S. led international order or for American democracy. Let’s review what he said.
“What China and the international community follow or uphold is the United Nations-centered international system and the international order underpinned by international law, not what is advocated by a small number of countries from the so-called ‘rules-based’ international order. The United States has its style – United States-style democracy – and China has the Chinese-style democracy.”
“… it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the Government of the United States.”
“… when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the U.S. side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the U.S. does not represent the world. It only represents the Government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”
These were direct attacks against the American and universal values that the Western world upholds. Remember, Yang said those words not only to top American diplomats face-to-face, but in front of all the major media in a public setting. While there has been no lack of assaults on Western values in China’s official media or government papers, in the history of their bilateral relationship, even during the Mao Zedong era, no senior Chinese official has ever publicly and directly attacked American values in front of top U.S. diplomats. In a sense, Communist China is declaring an ideological war against the Western world, and it is claiming that its authoritarian system, or “Chinese-style democracy,” is superior. Beijing is seeking the conquest of the globe with its ideology.
Yang holds the position of the director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He is the highest ranking CCP diplomat. In the past, he has given the world an impression of being modest and low-profile. The arrogant messages he delivered in Alaska were not a personal improvisation or misbehavior; instead these messages were from the highest level of the CCP.
On March 23, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying responded to an AFP report at a press briefing, “The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada together account for only 5.7 percent of the world’s population. Together with the European Union they account for only about 11 percent of the world’s total population, while China’s population accounts for 1/5 of the world’s total. The voices of these countries do not represent international public opinion; their positions do not represent the position of the international community, and they have even a lesser right and are not even qualified to represent the international community.”
In Alaska, Yang said, “The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent global public opinion.” The similarity of the talking points cannot be coincidence.
The Alaska meeting embodied a shift in China’s foreign policy posture from a defensive to an offensive approach.
Ever since the trade war with the U.S. in 2018, Communist China has been under huge pressure from intensive and heavily weighted sanctions and the tough policies during the Trump era. The international community has also criticized Xi Jinping and the CCP for an array of issues: the destruction of democracy in Hong Kong, the Uyghur genocide, the handling of the covid-19 pandemic, and the militarization of the South China Sea. Beijing has reacted defensively. However, it is betting that the new U.S. administration will reverse Trump’s policy and bring the relationship “back to normal.”
Now that Biden has entered the Whitehouse, Beijing sees an opportunity to reposition its stance. Three factors may help understand its belligerent offensive.
The first is Xi Jinping’s assessment of the power balance between China and the U.S. A quote circulated widely during a 2021 January meeting of mid-level CCP officials, where Xi commented on the international situation: “The West being strong and the East being weak is history; the decline of the West and rise of the East is the future.” These words also appeared in talks among other CCP leaders and on government websites. At the same meeting, Xi also said, “Time and momentum are on our side.” Sounding ill-advised as it may, Xi’s overconfidence in China’s economic, technological, and military strength, as well as his personal ambition, could drive his foreign policy down an aggressive highway.
The second is the CCP tactic that Miles Yu, policy adviser to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, pointed out, “For decades, our China policy was carried out based upon an ‘anger management’ mode — that is, we formulated our China policy by calculating how mad the CCP might be at us, not what was best suited to American national interest.” The CCP would raise the anger and rage level to the maximum to see how the U.S. would react, exactly like what Yang did in the Alaska meeting. “Unfortunately, too often we fell for this CCP sophistry and devised our China policies to appease CCP sensitivities and fake outrage to avoid an often imagined and exaggerated direct confrontation with the seemingly enraged CCP.”
Biden was viewed as weak toward China, and even a recent Wall Street Journal editorial expressed the concern that “(China, Russia, Iran) are looking to see if this new U.S. Administration is Obama II.” The CCP certainly wants to play it again to test it out.
The last is the need to bolster nationalistic sentiment. For a long time, anti-US emotion is something the CCP has been manipulating to rally the support of the Chinese people. The regime has been depicting the Western sanctions and criticisms as bullying and insults from the anti-China forces. Immediately after the Alaska meeting, Yang’s condescending talk and public humiliation of the Americans were hailed by official media as a diplomatic victory. Yang also became a national hero.
The intention to reach the domestic audience cannot be clearer. When the interpreter from the Chinese side wanted to translate his lecture given in Mandarin, Yang asked, “Is it necessary to translate it into English?”