"Still nowhere with the Chinese."
Blinken and Sullivan try again.
19 JUNE—It is two years now since Antony “Guardrails” Blinken and Jake Sullivan flew to Anchorage and in a matter of two days made a perfect mess of the Biden administration’s relations with China. For Joe Biden’s secretary of state and national security adviser, this was their first major outing since the new president took office two months earlier, and their first encounter with senior foreign policy people from China. A big, defining deal. And a big, defining disaster.
Guardrails and his not notably imaginative sidekick are now embarked on their latest effort, of many, to repair the damage they have done. Biden’s top diplomat finished two days’ talks in Beijing Monday, which ended with a 35–minute encounter with President Xi Jinping. Sullivan is now pushing a strategy so grand some of us are calling it “the Sullivan Doctrine.” If I may I’d like to write that phrase again for the sheer kick of it: The Sullivan Doctrine. Now there’s a thing.
It would be a great mistake to expect anything of either of these efforts. In the most important relationship the U.S. will have to manage in this century, Washington can do nothing more than repeat positions Beijing has already made clear are unacceptable. The only alternative—Blinken’s choice this week—is to say nothing and count it a success that another mess has been averted. The bitter truth is that Joe Biden’s best and brightest are too paralyzed by the ideology of American primacy to come up with a single, solitary new thought as to how to address other great powers as we enter an historically new era.
Blinken used to meet Chinese counterparts with the professed intention of “easing tensions” or building his famous guardrails so that when the U.S. provokes and provokes and provokes the Chinese they understand that we are for peace and freedom and things need not get too far out of hand. This time getting the invitation to Beijing and getting someone to talk to him when he arrived seem to have been the limits of our top diplomat’s aspirations.