President Joe Biden’s address to the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was remarkably conciliatory toward China, and included a brief but bold outreach to Iran for restoring the JCPOA nuclear deal. Both China and Iran quickly slapped Biden’s olive branches aside, pushing for nothing less than Biden’s complete submission to their demands.
Biden’s address included a few veiled jabs at China, snarky little asides that mentioned topics of contention without calling Beijing out by name. Even on the paramount human rights issue in the world today, China’s horrific oppression and enslavement of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang province, Biden could do no better than dropping the name “Xinjiang” and listing it as an area of concern along with Ethiopia’s ugly tribal war.
Biden carped about topics such as “freedom of navigation,” “adherence to international laws and treaties,” “basic labor rights,” “intellectual property,” “cyberattacks,” and “support for arms control measures” that might rest uneasily in Beijing’s ears, but he did not directly accuse China of serious violations on any of those counts.
Only the most devoted observers of foreign policy would recall that the U.S. has been needling China to join trilateral arms control deals with America and Russia, or that China rebuffed those demands by building hundreds of new ICBM silos.
Aside from those tiny bursts of nagging, Biden’s speech was incredibly friendly to China’s geopolitical narratives, and even paraphrased many of them. Most importantly, Biden laid no blame on China for the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he made a call for blameless international cooperation – and greater support for the kind of international agencies that Beijing tends to dominate – that could have come straight from a Chinese state media editorial:
We’re mourning more than 4.5 million people — people of every nation from every background. Each death is an individual heartbreak. But our shared grief is a poignant reminder that our collective future will hinge on our ability to recognize our common humanity and to act together.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the clear and urgent choice that we face here at the dawning of what must be a decisive decade for our world — a decade that will quite literally determine our futures.
As a global community, we’re challenged by urgent and looming crises wherein lie enormous opportunities if — if — we can summon the will and resolve to seize these opportunities.
Biden called for a “collective act of science and political will” to combat the current pandemic and those to come, including a “Global Health Threat Council” to “finance global health security.”
This is all music to Beijing’s ears – it’s exactly what the Chinese have been advocating since Covid-19 was unleashed from Wuhan to ravage the world. China constantly calls for the world to stop investigating the origins of the pandemic, accept China’s leadership as supposedly the greatest coronavirus-fighting experts on Earth, and establish new Western-funded global health agencies to which China can contribute its alleged expertise.
Biden also made a call for more globalist economics, another great preoccupation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which loves to talk about multilateralism and cooperation while it pursues a ruthless nationalist agenda and breaks trade laws without hesitation to get what it wants.
“We will pursue new rules of global trade and economic growth that strive to level the playing field so that it’s not artificially tipped in favor of any one country at the expense of others and every nation has a right and the opportunity to compete fairly,” Biden declared.
“There’s a fundamental truth of the 21st Century within each of our own countries, and as a global community, that our own success is bound up in others succeeding as well,” Biden said – a very close paraphrase of China’s favorite talking point about “win-win cooperation.”
The CCP responds to virtually every criticism of its trade violations, human rights offenses, and border aggressions by insisting its critics should stop fruitlessly pestering it and embrace “win-win cooperation” instead.
Biden pointed to the “enormous need for infrastructure in developing countries,” a call China would take as an endorsement of its massive Belt and Road infrastructure project. And in his most direct quote from the CCP playbook, he insisted the U.S. is “not seeking a new Cold War.”
Chinese officials and state media constantly accuse the U.S. of being stuck in a “Cold War” mentality, especially when Americans stand up to Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea, criticize Chinese trade practices, or ask pointed questions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
In sum, Biden made some very generous overtures to accept China’s political narratives of the coronavirus, trade policy, global strategy, and even human rights, with a few muted suggestions for ways Beijing could reciprocate by addressing issues of concern to the United States. The people who wrote that speech for Biden must have understood how their phrases echoed CCP rhetoric. They sent Biden to sing a few of China’s favorite songs on open mike night at the U.N. karaoke bar, hoping President Xi Jinping would join him for a duet.
The CCP responded by slapping that olive branch out of Biden’s hand.
In a remarkably heated editorial on Tuesday, China’s state-run Global Times refuted all of Biden’s conciliatory gestures, mocked him for claiming he isn’t seeking a new Cold War, seethed over every little issue Biden raised without directly criticizing China, and snarled that the Biden administration is still pursuing President Donald Trump’s “confrontational” policies, including the U.S. Navy’s freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.
“The U.S. claims that it does not seek a new cold war with China. Who would buy it? Chinese society does not believe it, global public opinion does not believe it. Surely there are only very few people in the U.S. who believe that the Biden administration is not launching a cold war, nor that it is capable of controlling the so-called China-U.S. competition at an ‘appropriate level,’” the Global Times fumed.
“In opposing a new cold war, Beijing can only hope that the power of American people is greater than the operational energy of the US government and some political elites against the tide of the times. Time and momentum will ultimately fail Washington’s vile intentions, negating and limiting its destructive power,” the CCP newspaper wrote.
In his own televised address to the U.N. General Assembly late on Tuesday, President Xi Jinping humiliated Biden by crowing that his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan proved “military intervention from the outside and so-called democratic transformation entail nothing but harm.”
Xi took another shot at Biden – far more aggressively than anything Biden said about China in his address – by mocking the new AUKUS alliance between the U.S., Australia, and U.K. as a menace to world peace.
“We need to advocate peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, which are the common values of humanity, and reject the practice of forming small circles or zero-sum games,” Xi said. (“Zero-sum games” is another Chinese shorthand for U.S. policies Beijing disapproves of; the phrase is essentially the antonym of “win-win cooperation.”)
Xi even challenged Biden on the coronavirus, obliquely pushing China’s deranged conspiracy theory that the virus was cooked up in an American laboratory by endorsing further investigations of Covid-19 everywhere but China, and dismissing all further investigations of Wuhan as “political maneuvering.”
Biden backed down from blaming China for the pandemic, but that still wasn’t good enough for Xi, who wants all suspicion of his Communist government erased from global history.
Biden made a much briefer outreach to Iran in his U.N. speech, implicitly conceding wrongdoing by the United States – a cherished Iranian talking point – and offering unlimited concessions to revive the nuclear deal, provided Iran simultaneously makes concessions of its own:
The United States remains committed to preventing Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon. We are working with the P5+1 to engage Iran diplomatically and seek a return to the JCPOA. We’re prepared to return to full compliance if Iran does the same.
As with China, Iran slapped Biden aside. Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline cleric recently elected as president of Iran, gave a confrontational speech to the U.N. in which he demanded complete and unilateral American submission to Tehran’s demands before negotiations could proceed any further.
“The Islamic Republic considers useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive sanctions,” Raisi said.
Raisi railed that sanctions are “the U.S.’s new way of war with the nations of the world” and accused the United States of crimes against humanity for maintaining sanctions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today, the world doesn’t care about ‘America First’ or ‘America is Back,” Raisi sneered, mocking the campaign slogans of both Trump and Biden.
Both China and Iran were uninterested in taking any opportunities for compromise offered by Biden. Neither of those malevolent regimes sees any reason to settle for less than 100 percent of what they desire, especially after Biden’s blunders in Afghanistan. Biden offered to see things Beijing’s and Tehran’s way, to adopt their vision of the major issues in exchange for some modest concessions that would let him claim credit as a diplomat and dealmaker, but no hostile foreign leaders seem inclined to help Joe Biden save face.