One of the keys, and unfortunately consistent, failures of the American foreign policy is in assessing the impacts of foreign policy decisions on U.S. national security. This is especially true as it relates to the Biden administration’s resumption of unaccountable engagement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In the wake of the PRC’s “Spy Balloon” incident over America in February 2023, the Biden Administration began in earnest to reverse the Trump policy of Great Power Competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The first step in the Biden “reset” of relations came in May 2023 when CIA Director Nicholas Burns made a secret trip to Beijing to meet with his Chinese counterparts and to emphasize “the importance of maintaining open lines of communication in intelligence channels.” That visit opened the flood gates for a series of Cabinet level and other senior government and former government officials to Beijing to meet their counterparts all in the name of lowering tensions and restoring good relations.
By June, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken made his first visit to the PRC. This was quickly followed up by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Climate Czar John F. Kerry, former Secretary of State and centenarian friend of China Henry Kissinger all going to Beijing in July and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in August. Surrounding these visits were multiple meetings by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan with his PRC counterpart Wang Yi in Vienna and Malta in May and September, respectively.
These visits were not just contained to these high-level cabinet officials, in July the PRC’s new Ambassador to the US, Xie Feng, conducted a rare meeting in the Pentagon with Ely Ratner, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.
All of which culminated in the summit meeting between Xi and Biden at the 654-acre Filoli Estate in Woodside, California. From the meeting at Filoli, an acronym which stands for “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life,” the Biden administration announced one of the agreements with the Communist leader was the commitment to resume military-to-military engagement with the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
As noted in these pages two weeks ago, the Biden-Xi ’s summit provides considerable risks for the U.S. national security. One aspect of the failure to objectively assess the cumulative impact of this clear and unambiguous shift in U.S. foreign policy towards the PRC relates to our allies and partners.
A review of the events that have occurred since the Biden administration has reversed course from the Trump era’s Great Power Competition approach to the CCP reveals this dangerous shift, which should be considered accommodation of the CCP’s designs.
U.S. policy towards the Philippines illuminates this drift toward accommodation of the enemy. There are the threatening actions by Beijing against our treaty ally the Republic of the Philippines. In August, Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) ships, the size of PLA Navy (PLAN) destroyers, fired water-cannon at much smaller Philippine resupply boats for their sailors stationed aboard the ground WWII-era amphibious ship Sierra Madre at Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
This PRC campaign of harassment of the Philippines has not just been limited to Second Thomas Shoal. For instance, in September the CCG installed a 300-meter-long floating barrier in the southeast portion of Scarborough Shoal to prevent Philippine fishing boats from fishing within the Shoal—a shoal that is well inside the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone.
The use of water-cannon by the CCG was repeated yet again in November during a four-hour stand-off. So far, no one has been killed, but as unchecked aggression continues, so too does the chance for a deadly encounter—one that could spark a war.
Canada is another ally whose efforts to stand with the U.S. and its allies in the region are slighted by the Biden administration. In September, HMCS Ottawa was harassed three times by PLAN warships and PLA Navy Air Force (PLANAF) combat aircraft while operating the international waters of the East China Sea with their American and Japanese counterparts. This was followed up by PLAAF fighters threatening the Ottawa’s helicopter in October and November, again in international waters, this time in the South China Sea. The last encounter was especially dangerous as PLANAF J-11 fighters fired flares in front the sub-hunting Canadian helicopter.
Australia is one more U.S. treaty ally that has been harassed by the PRC since Biden’s return to a policy of pro-CCP Engagement. Most notably was the November action by a PLAN destroyer that used active sonar against the HMAS Toowoomba as she was dead-in-the-water with divers over the side who were clearing fishing nets from the screws. This wonton act of thuggery could have easily killed those innocent divers and again demonstrates the incredible brazenness with which Xi views the current situation with a weakened U.S. administration.
Most worrisome of all though has been the scope and scale of PLAN warships that have been surging in and around Japan’s positions in the First Island Chain. In August, for the first time ever, 11 Chinese and Russian warships simultaneously passed together through the Miyako Strait, the strait just south of Okinawa. Then in September, as reported by the Japanese Ministry of Defense, eight more PLAN warships passed through the Miyako Strait into the Philippine Sea while the PLAN’s second aircraft carrier CNS Shandong passed through the Bashi Channel also into the Philippine Sea for the PRC’s largest naval exercise in the western Pacific with over 20 combatants training for war-at-sea with not just the U.S. Navy, but the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) as well.
Finally, the PLAN conducted two naval exercises in the Yellow and Bohai Seas immediately following the U.S., Canadian and South Korean’s (another U.S. treaty ally) naval ceremony commemorating the 73rd Anniversary of the Battle of Inchon. Again, the message from Beijing was clear—the PRC has the military might and power to match every military exercise the U.S. conducts in the region and to remind America’s allies that their trust and confidence in the U.S. is a mistake.
America’s allies in Asia have experienced a dramatic increase in threatening military actions by the PLA and other PRC agencies (like the CCG and Maritime Militia). While the Biden administration may choose to ignore this reality, the end result of their shift back to unaccountable engagement with the CCP is the erosion of America’s system of hub-and-spoke alliances in the region. America’s allies are watching and rightfully considering whether the U.S. will abide by our treaty obligations which requires the U.S. to stand should-to-should with its allies when challenged by the PRC. Doubt builds with small slights and inaction before collapsing into betrayal. The Biden administration is flirting with the loss of allied confidence. Once lost, America’s national security will be threatened and worse still, it will take an adroit statesman years to recover. That will not be President Biden.
James Fanell is a government fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, a retired captain in the U.S. Navy and a former director of intelligence and information operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Bradley A. Thayer is Director of China Policy at the Center for Security Policy. He is the coauthor with Lianchao Han of Understanding the China Threat.