U.S. President Joe Biden departs the White House in Washington on Nov. 14, 2023. Biden is scheduled to travel to California to attend the APEC summit in San Francisco. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Beware of the impending summit between President Joe Biden and Xi Jinping. Neither China’s current trajectory nor President Biden’s long record of woefully underestimating the Chinese threat inspires confidence that the meeting will have a positive outcome.
On the contrary, President Biden and his administration appear eager to resume some version of engaging the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—a policy that reached its ignominious apotheosis during the Obama administration in which President Biden enthusiastically served, failing dismally to tame Chinese ambitious while tranquilizing foreign policy elites from responding vigilantly to the gathering danger.
Indeed, the war in Ukraine has catalyzed the emergence of a virulently anti-American Chinese, Russian, Iranian axis of tyranny, with China as the most formidable of these implacable adversaries. Sino-Russian collaboration aimed at displacing the United States as the world’s preeminent power has flourished since Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping signed a comprehensive economic and security pact in 2022. China and Russia have also coordinated their anti-American policies in the Middle East, enabling Iran and condemning Israel more severely than Hamas’s genocidal attack against Israel on Oct. 7.
Granted, President Biden deserves some credit for putting some distance between his administration and President Barack Obama by actually naming the PRC a competitor in the administration’s 2022 National Security statement, invigorating security cooperation with U.S. allies and India, maintaining many of President Donald Trump’s tariffs on China, making preliminary efforts to decouple America’s economy from China’s in vital sectors, and imposing semiconductor export controls. Alas, the continuities between their administration’s policies and premises loom larger than the differences.
The military balance in the Indo-Pacific—the world’s most important power center for the 21st century—continues to deteriorate thanks to a combination of China’s relentless three-decade-long military buildup and the improvident slashing of American defense spending President Obama initiated, President Trump partly reversed, and President Biden reprised. Most reputable war games show the United States losing in an encounter with China in the event of a conflict over Taiwan. Historians Hal Brands and Michael Beckley warn convincingly
that a showdown over Taiwan could occur sooner rather than later. Prudence dictates the imperative of accelerating the dilatory pace of arming Taiwan with sufficient numbers and types of weapons to make a Chinese direct or indirect attack on Taiwan prohibitively costly.
President Joe Biden walks to board Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Nov. 14, 2023. Biden will be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' week in San Francisco, California. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)
Beyond that, the credibility and capability of America’s global deterrence will continue to erode without expeditiously increasing what we spend on defense from 3 percent of the GDP—less than the Roosevelt Administration spent in 1940 unprepared for what was to come—to 5 or 6 percent, well within our capabilities by historic metrics. The United States not only needs to spend more, but get more bang for its buck. It is essential we streamline our sclerotic procurement process, invest in threshold technologies essential for restoring American military preponderance, and rebuild our eviscerated military industrial complex the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East have exposed as inadequate to supply vital democratic allies promptly and adequately—much less meet our own force requirement.
In this context, the Biden Administration’s eagerness for a meeting with Mr. Xi radiates a distressing complacency about the economic as well as the military dimension of the Chinese threat. The administration continues to take a relaxed view, for example, toward China’s relentless theft of American intellectual property that former FBI director Christopher Wray calls one of the greatest wealth transfers in world history.
Instead of heeding the warnings of the foreign policy establishment and American executives about the consequences of decoupling our economy from China’s, the Biden administration should continue—not moderate or cast aside—the Trump administration’s wise encouragement of decoupling, with the end game of confining unrestricted trade with China solely to the category of palpably non-strategic goods and commodities. The Biden administration’s delusional definition of global warming as the paramount existential threat also renders the president especially vulnerable to prioritizing the achievement of the white whale of a climate deal with Mr. Xi at the expense of our more compelling, immanent moral and geopolitical imperatives.
As a caveat, history does furnish ample examples of a president defying expectations. Recall the Truman administration’s determination to resist North Korea’s June 1950 attack against South Korea just six months after Secretary of State Dean Acheson seemed to exclude South Korea as a vital interest in his speech to the National Press Club in January 1950. Perhaps President Biden will display a salutary vigilance towards Xi Jinping at their meeting and thereafter to the surprise and delight of this writer.
Yet do not count on it. In the worst case, a poor performance by President Biden brings to mind another chilling analogy—the Vienna Summit between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev in June of 1961 weeks following the debacle of the Bay of Pigs invasion. “He savaged me,” Kennedy had the candor to admit
. Khrushchev’s negative impression of Kennedy at Vienna reinforced his propensity for taking huge gambles, successfully in the case of erecting the Berlin Wall in August 1961 and nearly catastrophically in provoking the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
Will Mr. Xi conclude after his Summit with President Biden that the president—still downplaying the China threat in all its dimensions, still committed to the vast expansion of government domestically, still unwilling to secure the border or restore law and order in American cities—commands the resources, much less the inclination to bear the burden and pay the price of leading a coalition to counter China successfully? Or will the Summit convince Mr. Xi once and for all that the Biden administration lacks the fortitude and foresight to stop him from achieving his hegemonic ambitions, starting with the conquest of a decent, democratic Taiwan?
An accurate diagnosis of the dynamics of the Chinese threat is an essential condition for devising the best practicable remedy consistent with our ideals and self interest. We are indeed in a cold war with China. Beijing knows that. Pray that the Biden administration knows that, or else.
U.S. President Joe Biden and China's leader Xi Jinping meet on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Nov. 14, 2022. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)