What an irony!
Two weeks back, on January 20, during an appearance at the University of Chicago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked if the temperature in U.S.-China relations had cooled.
Secretary Blinken had a profound response: “I think it has because when you talk and engage, it usually has that effect. The rest of the world expects us to manage these relationships responsibly. They know that the way we manage them will actually affect them.”
Fast forward to January 31.
China threw a hissy fit when the president-elect of the Czech Republic, Petr Pavel, made a phone call to speak with Taiwan’s leader. All hell broke loose. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Pavel had acted in “defiance of China’s repeated dissuasion and complaints” and “trampled on China’s red line.”
A few days later, on February 2, the Associated Press reported that 34 planes and nine warships conducted operations to harass Taiwan.
While the nations neighboring China get regularly treated to China’s menace, this time, it was different. This week the Chinese had the chutzpah to fly a spy balloon over Montana, home to one of America’s three nuclear missile silo fields, at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
A senior Defense Department official confirmed that it was a surveillance balloon and had flown over some sensitive military sites.
Retrospectively, Secretary Blinken must be biting his tongue, regretting his University of Chicago answer. Though the Chinese foreign ministry said, “China regrets that the airship strayed into the United States,” he has canceled his previously planned visit to the country.
There is an important lesson here. Secretary Blinken’s Chicago response exposed the naivety of America’s top diplomat and revealed the lack of his understanding of the China-U.S. relationship.
The second lesson. What is happening here is the price you pay for President Biden’s weakness.
President Biden likes to boast about his special personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping developed over 17,000 miles of travel.
President Xi Jinping has yet to come clean on the origin of the coronavirus. The world has lost nearly seven million people. However, China has stonewalled all along and never cooperated fully to get to the bottom of the origin of the virus.
Furthermore, we believe that President Biden, as the leader of the free world, has not held China accountable for its lack of cooperation. This has emboldened China, which believes it can do anything and get away with it, and the balloon is the latest example.
Food for thought: had Beijing been keen on furthering diplomacy with Washington, would President Xi’s regime have floated the balloon over a sensitive military post on American soil just before a scheduled visit by the Secretary of State?
The third lesson. China apologized for the intrusion on Friday, saying the object was a weather balloon that had deviated from its intended path. Really?
Sorry, we have not forgotten the Wuhan wet market story.
There are protocols nations follow when undertaking such missions. The U.S. airspace is sacrosanct. When did China know that the balloon had veered off its path? Did it inform the U.S. authorities promptly?
The fourth lesson.
The Balloon episode touches every American. It will help to reinforce the negative perception of China in Americans’ minds. As we wrote recently, only one of the 36 demographic groups we track has a favorable opinion of China.
Our TIPP China Favorability Index ranges from 0 to 100. A reading of 50 or higher is favorable, while a reading of 50 or lower is unfavorable. 50 is neutral.
The index dropped 2.8 points, or 8.0%, from 33.5 in 2021 to 30.7 in 2022.
Does it matter?
Yes, Americans’ views on China will impact U.S. foreign policy and consumption of Made-in-China goods.
So far, Chinese audacity had been largely limited to claiming ownership of scarcely inhabited atolls in the South China Sea and signing security packs that could double as military outposts in the Pacific. With the Pentagon admitting that there have been “other instances” of such “activity,” it is clear that Beijing has maneuvered far closer to American shores than is comfortable.
Beijing owes its success to America. But, now that it has grown enough to challenge the developed countries regarding trade and economy, China is showing its true colors. Team Biden must have an appropriate response to teach China a lesson. Else, Americans will have to get used to citing balloons regularly.
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Republished with permission from TIPP Insights