As a new Cold War takes shape between the U.S. and China, progressives fear the result will be a dramatically warming planet.
Over 40 progressive groups sent a letter to President Joe Biden and lawmakers on Wednesday urging them to prioritize cooperation with China on climate change and curb its confrontational approach over ... on Hong Kong and forced detention of Uyghur Muslims.
It's the latest salvo in the months-long drama between progressive Democrats who say cooperation on climate change should take precedence over competition with China, and moderates who think the administration can do both things at once. As the Biden administration solidifies its China strategy, and as anti-China legislation moves through Congress, thisintra-Democratic tussle could define the U.S.-China relationship for years to come.
The progressive organizations, including the Sunrise Movement and the Union of Concerned Scientists, “call on the Biden administration and all members of Congress to eschew the dominant antagonistic approach to U.S.-China relations and instead prioritize multilateralism, diplomacy, and cooperation with... to address the existential threat that is the climate crisis,” their letter reads. “Nothing less than the future of our planet depends on ending the new Cold War between the United States and China.”
Joe Biden’s new Cold War with China will result in climate collapse, progressives warn
“To combat the climate crisis and build a global economy that works for everyday working people — in the U.S. and China alike — we must shift from competition to cooperation,” the groups continued.
Challenging China’s regional human rights abuses and aggressions is central to Biden’s foreign policy, while the struggle between American-style democracy and Chinese-style authoritarianism serves as his presidency’s animating idea. “It is clear, absolutely clear ... that this is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies,” Biden told reporters in April.
The standoff has led to frosty relations between the world’s most powerful countries with no signs of thawing any time soon.
Progressives say Biden must quickly reverse the trend or risk failing on another of his priorities: ending climate change. “His entire climate change agenda could be at risk if his anti-China campaign continues and grows,” said Erik Sperling, the executive director of Just Foreign Policy, one of the groups that signed on to the letter.
It’s not the first time progressives railed against the administration’s China a..., prominent left-leaning lawmakers and 60 activist groups called on the president not to turn China into t...n. “We need to distinguish between justified criticisms of the Chinese government’s human rights record and a Cold War mentality that uses China as a scapegoat for our own domestic problems and demonizes Chinese Americans,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said at the time.
And last week, nearly 30 organizations pushed Speaker Nancy Pelosi to back a less confrontational version of anti-China legislation working its way through Congress.
The pressure isn't letting up. "We need a strategic approach to China that prioritizes our national security and economic competitiveness while creating spaces for cooperation on climate change and other global issues. I would have an approach of competitive cooperation. It’s early to say on how the administration approach will develop," said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a prominent Congressional progressive.
That puts Khanna and others at odds with moderate Democrats, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who argue the Chinese government’s actions must face stiff resistance from the United States. “There should be little doubt that China and the Communist Party under Xi Jinping’s brand of hyper-nat... is unlike any challenge America has ever faced,” he said in April.
But this newest letter is another progressive shot across the bow, and they want to let the president know his China approach is dooming the world. “It’s a colossal blunder,” said Basav Sen, the climate justice policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies.
The Biden administration has long claimed it could silo its climate... and geopolitical competition with China. “Obviously we have serious differences with China,” John Kerry, the president’s special envoy for climate change, told reporters in January. “Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate. That’s not going to happen.” As evidence, they point to China’s participation during the US-led climate summit in April where Beijing vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce coal consumption.
Progressives aren’t convinced, as they already see the broader U.S.-China spat bleeding into the climate-change effort. In June, for example, the US banned the import of solar panel material from a Chinese company over forced labor allegations.
“Cooperation with China on climate doesn’t absolve China or the U.S... said Karen Orenstein, director of the climate and energy program at Friends of the Earth U.S. But those issues shouldn’t impact how strongly Washington tackles the global climate change problem in tandem with Beijing, she said. “The climate emergency requires cooperation.”
Joe Biden cannot counter China with a team that lacks expertise
President Biden’s foreign policy team says China is the priority, but the team lacks China expertise. Other than trade experience at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Biden’s Cabinet has no China expertise. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has worked on issues involving Europe, Canada and the Middle East. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has a distinguished career as a gene... and as leader of U.S. forces in the Middle East. National security adviser Jake Sullivan’s biography highlights work..., Syria, Iran and Myanmar.
Biden’s lead candidate for ambassador to Beijing continues the pattern. Nicholas Burns has served in the Middle East and Europe. An Indiaphile and Sinophobe, he lacks China experience and disdains China experts with more complex views.
I’m a lifelong Democrat who criticized George W. Bush’s foreign pol.... But Bush had outstanding success with U.S.-China relations. He gained enduring respect and appreciation from both Beijing and Taipei. He strongly supported Taiwan but forbade dangerous Taipei provocations. He managed difficult problems, starting with the downing of a U.S. surveillance plane on Hainan. Bush’s China success was created by his team — notably, Hank Paulsen at Treasury, Dennis Wilder at the National Security Council, and Sandy Randt as ambassador. They knew China.
Presidents Obama and Trump lacked top-level China expertise and theirAsia policies were successive fumbles. Obama’s team idled while North Korea built nuclear weapons. He sacrificed U.S. allies’ confidence by failing to defend Scarborough Shoal, validated the Japanese breaking of a four-decade peace understanding over the Sen..., used phony arguments in failed opposition to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), and invested too little, too late in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump’s record was worse.
Below Cabinet level, Biden’s key Asia officials are Kurt Campbell at the National Securi... at the Department of Defense. State’s Sung Kim is rock-solid but less prominent. Neither Campbell nor Ratner has deep, direct experience with China. Obama’s Asia failures happened on Campbell’s watch. Campbell and Ratner are famous for a 2018 Foreign Affairs article asserting that U.S. engagement with China has failed because it assumed that engagement would make China a liberal polity — fatuous historical revisionism based on out-of-context quotes. Congressional testimony shows that all key engagement decisions hinged on national security and economic risks and opportunities, uneasily mixed with moral opprobrium. The Campbell-Ratner misrepresentation of history should have disqualified them from their current government positions.
Campbell’s primary contribution under Obama was “the pivot” to Asia, a conceptually valid shift of U.S. resources away from the Middle East and South Asia to East Asia. The Middle East focus of Biden’s team so far proves the pivot’s strategic failure. The pivot’s biggest contribution to U.S. strength was the pitiful shift of a couple thousand U.S. troop..., but its management provoked Beijing to anticipate a major strategic challenge — a big net loss for the United States.
The Biden team’s record on Pacific Asia has been a series of missteps. Blinken’s antagonism in Anchorage played well domestically but could hamper productive dialogue for years. Blinken called Taiwan a “country,” although his professional colleagues walked that back; someone who understood China would never make that gaffe. Biden’s policy toward North Korea lacks substance and is hopeless without a China dimension. Blinken half-snubbed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (AS..., which holds the balance of Chinese and American power in Asia, by offering their meeting only an in-flight video conference because he gave priority to a Middle East meeting — and then he couldn’t make the meeting technology work.
Blinken has warned countries not to accept Chinese infrastructure l..., lest China end up owning the projects, echoing the falsehood put forth by former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Beijing lends money inappropriately so that it can seize collateral. In more than a thousand African loans, Beijing has never seized collateral and never sought to take advantage of a squeezed borrower. The Pence citation of a 2017 Chinese lease agreement with Sri Lanka... was such a distortion that some scholars call it a lie.
The Biden administration does not know how to be tough but not prov.... If you sell Taiwan advanced weaponry and send three carrier task forces to the Taiwan Strait, you’re tough — but don’t break the 1972 agreement that underlies Taiwan’s democracy and prosperity. However, if you invite the Taiwan representative to the presidential inauguration, send members of Congress as official emissaries, and characterize Taiwan as a “security partner,” you don’t strengthen Taiwan but nearly abandon the 1972 agreement to sever official diplomatic and alliance ties. That risks putting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a position where keeping his job could require decisive action.
Would America have accepted a Cold War leadership without Soviet expertise? The more you see China as a dangerous adversary, the more important it is to actually understand China. It is insufficient for officials to be well-connected, experienced on Middle East issues, and dislike China.