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Chinese Analysts See Little Gain From Blinken’s Visit

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Chinese Analysts See Little Gain From Blinken’s Visit

Semi-official media outlets have taken an unusually strident tone in denouncing the secretary of state’s trip to China, urging Beijing to take a harder line.

Chinese Analysts See Little Gain From Blinken’s Visit

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves from his plane upon arrival in Shanghai, China, Apr. 24, 2024.

Credit: U.S. State Department photo

Current affairs and foreign policy analysts in China noticed something rather unusual in the media reports of U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s arrival in Shanghai on Wednesday morning. The unusual addition was two Chinese characters, 邀请, meaning “invitation.” Of all the U.S. officials who have visited China since last summer – including Blinken on his June 2023 trip, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on her trips in 2023 and earlier this month, former White House climate envoy John Kerry, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo – Blinken’s current visit is the only visit by a top U.S. official that was explicitly said to come “at the invitation” of a Chinese counterpart.

Many in China are not pleased by the change.

With Blinken in the middle of his second visit to China in nine months, analysts in China are wondering if the top U.S. diplomacy is here “to waste China’s time.” Even as his plane touched down in Shanghai, numerous commentaries in Chinese media angrily questioned him being “invited” to China. In the eyes of many commentators, Blinken is believed to be visiting to continue the unfinished agenda from Yellen’s visit three weeks ago – that is, issuing a slew of demands and threats as part of the Biden administration’s aggressive confrontation of and military build-up against Beijing.

While Yellen’s visit focused on “overcapacity” – an issue viewed by Chinese analysts as a new pretext for halting Chinese economic growth – Blinken has seemingly been sent to demand that Beijing halt the export of dual-use items to Russia.

[W]hen it comes to Russia’s defense industrial base, the primary contributor in this moment to that is China,” Blinken told reporters last week after a G-7 meeting in Italy. He added, “Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.”

In a provocative signed article, well-known left-wing political commentator Feng Liuhen asked: “Is Blinken coming to lay his cards on the table?” Citing global media reports, Feng accused Blinken of publicly threatening China before the visit by saying that China’s support for Russia “would be the main topic of his visit and that Beijing must choose between friendly relations with the West and support for Russia.” Interpreting Blinken’s threat of financial sanctions against China, Feng said that the U.S. diplomat was here to “blackmail” China.

“If it is really true, then we must not entertain Blinken and let him go back without indulging in any meaningful dialogue,” Feng proclaimed.

Like Feng, several commentators in China have ridiculed Washington for funneling ever-larger quantities of sophisticated arms to Ukraine while at the same time demanding that China allow the U.S.-led sanctions to cripple Russia’s industrial capacity and thus the Russian military. 

Interestingly, Blinken’s visit has been declared as “invited” – unlike Yellen, who visited earlier in this month – yet early reports suggest he has been given a “much frostier reception” than the treasury secretary, especially on Chinese social media. None other than Chinese Premier Li Qiang himself noted in his opening remarks to Yellen that her visit “indeed drew a lot of attention in society.” By contrast, expectations were low for Blinken’s visit.

Capturing the mood, one reader commented that China “cannot expect much from Blinkin’s [sic] visit,” predicting “another round of lecturing and threatening China of over capacity or support for Russia or more sanctions.” Instead, the commenter sarcastically suggested that Blinken should enjoy some Tsingtao beer and Peking duck to get something positive out of his trip.

Indeed, in spite of China welcoming the secretary of state on an “invited” visit, some Chinese media have ruled out any breakthroughs. Why? Because Blinken has come armed with a list of hard questions to ask his hosts regarding European security and China threatening neighbors in the Indo-Pacific. And Beijing is in no mood to hear him out.

As regards the specific agenda of Blinken urging Beijing to cease its support for Russia’s industrial base or face consequences, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson has already adopted an aggressive “push back” approach. “The United States keeps making groundless accusations over the normal trade and economic exchanges between China and Russia … to fan the flames or to smear others and shift the blame is no way to solve the Ukraine issue,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said a day before Blinken landed in Shanghai.

The other unusual thing about Blinken’s current visit is that China’s Foreign Ministry has released a list of “five major goals” to focus on during official talks with Blinken in Shanghai and Beijing. The semi-official, nationalist Chinese tabloid Global Times claimed that the purpose of publicizing these “five goals” is to put Blinken under pressure by making it clear China will not “compromise on core issues.” However, the unstated reason behind the “goals” is to pacify those at home who are agitated to see a continuous flow of top U.S. officials into China with the sole purpose of “wasting China’s time.”  

In the media, especially on social media and in the Chinese semi-official digital media, adjectives and superlatives such as “hypocritical,” “nonsense,” and “scumbag” have been used – rather unusually – in order to ridicule, embarrass, and show complete disrespect to both Blinken and President Joe Biden.   

Based on a few recent Chinese op-ed columns and commentaries on the eve of and a day or two after the visit, it wasn’t difficult to compile a list of reasons why the Biden administration’s “China agenda” is being dismissed as the “litany of lies.”

First and foremost, as noted above, Blinken has been accused of employing a mafia-like “gangster logic” in demanding that China curtail its trade with Russia. Chinese analysts believe that the U.S. goaded Russia into invading Ukraine in the first place. Now the U.S. and its European allies are supposedly desperate to reverse the deteriorating position of the Ukrainian military amid its loss of territory to Russian forces. 

Interestingly, at least some Chinese analysts have argued that the top U.S. officials visiting China are useful as a “bargaining chip” against Russia. According to this argument, China wants to convey to Moscow that by maintaining normal trade with Russia in the present circumstances, Beijing is paying an unusually high price – and that it must be compensated by Russia. These analysts see a certain logic, then, in inviting Blinken, if only to send a message to Russia. “If Russia can understand this gesture, it will naturally expand its opening to us in more fields,” one analyst mused. 

Beyond the Russia issue, Chinese commentators call Blinken’s allegations of China violating human rights and engaging in genocide against Muslims Uyghurs in western Xinjiang “utterly cynical” and the “lie of the century.” The U.S. is being asked to look into the mirror as the Biden administration bankrolls and politically defends the fascistic Israeli regime as it wages a genocidal war in Gaza. 

Most of these commentators believe that the U.S., especially Blinken and Biden, must be given to understand that they cannot go on playing with China. On the one hand, U.S. officials are relentlessly continuing with taking “punitive” actions against China; on the other hand, they feel that they can provoke China at will and be well-received in Beijing anytime they want, analysts bemoan. They predict that the purpose of this visit is to “teach China a lesson” and to point fingers at China, and the U.S. will not make any concessions. 

Thus Blinken’s visit is viewed by most Chinese analysts as a continuation of the series of top U.S. officials visiting Beijing with the sole agenda of telling China what to do on a series of international issues. As Professor Li Haidong of Beijing-based China Foreign Affairs University, the country’s leading foreign policy think tank, run by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told Chinese media: “We welcome U.S. officials to come to China to enhance communication. But it seems Blinken is here to issue an ultimatum to China. 

“We will not give in to him and will not compromise on our core issues.”