Hawks hallucinate a US-China détente policy that doesn’t exist
    Analysis by Responsible Statecraft

    WORLD  08 June 2023 - 07:01

    Responsible Statecraft has published an article arguing that hawks are distorting Biden’s position to score ideological points while also presenting the more aggressive approach as the answer. Caliber.Az reprints the article.

    The China policy debate in this country is increasingly detached from reality. 

    Confronted with a Biden administration policy that is quite hawkish and confrontational, some China hawks have decided to invent an imaginary détente policy to attack. Last week, A. Wess Mitchell of the Marathon Initiative laid out an extensive case against a Biden China détente policy that actually doesn’t exist. 

    “Now is not the time for the United States to pursue détente with China, as the Biden administration has been trying to do for several weeks now,” Mitchell, a former Trump State Department official, warned.

    Mitchell isn’t alone in hallucinating a détente policy. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute fretted that Biden was intent on a “reset” with China. Before that, Craig Singleton of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies criticized the administration because it was “wedded to a policy of détente.” 

    The hostility of hardliners to the idea of reducing tensions and accommodating other states is a given, but these attacks all miss the mark. Biden’s willingness to accommodate China has been wildly exaggerated.

    While the Biden administration makes only the most half-hearted gestures in the direction of a minimal thaw (and won’t even follow through on that), China hawks rush to oppose an accommodation that isn’t happening. Biden has presided over the consolidation of a containment policy and a sharp deterioration in US-China relations in just the last two years. 

    He ought to be pursuing détente, but he is doing no such thing. So what explains this growing drumbeat of opposition to something that isn’t happening?

    It is common in foreign policy debates for supporters of more aggressive policies to misrepresent an administration’s position for rhetorical purposes. The distortion of the administration’s position allows critics to score partisan and ideological points while also presenting their more aggressive approach as the answer. This also enables hawks to police the boundaries of the debate to make sure that the only policy options under consideration are ones that they find acceptable.

    We saw similar hawkish attacks during the Obama years. Obama ran a generally hawkish and interventionist foreign policy, so his hawkish opponents had to come up with a fantasy version of appeasement and “abandoning allies” to give them something to criticize. In both cases, the government’s real policies were often practically indistinguishable from the ones that the hawks wanted, but for their own reasons they had to conjure up a more useful target. One of those reasons was to provide an alibi for themselves when the meddlesome policies failed. 

    When US and allied meddling in Syria made conditions there worse, interventionists pretended that US policy had failed there because it wasn’t interventionist enough or that the US had never intervened at all. This is what China hawks are doing now: redefining a hawkish policy as détente so that they can demand even more provocative and dangerous moves. If they can get away with painting Biden’s policy as détente, then they can try to claim that the breakdown in relations is the result of Biden’s supposed naïve outreach. That makes it easier for them to propose combative actions as the “solution.”

    Mitchell also engages in some misleading revisionism about some past efforts at sustained diplomatic engagement, but that’s just part of the larger effort to discredit any diplomacy with rival states. The “reset” with Russia achieved some useful things in the form of New START and Russian cooperation on Afghanistan, and it even led to a brief thaw in relations between Russia and its neighbours. The US intervention in Libya and the Magnitsky Act eventually killed it, but not before it had delivered some real gains for the US.

    The “reset” was at least a genuine effort to improve the relationship with Russia and bury the hatchet after the animosity of the Bush years, and for a short time it worked as intended. It didn’t fix all the problems in the relationship, but it showed that the relationship could be a constructive one. The deteriorating situation with Russia over the last decade was partly the result of abandoning that diplomatic effort. 

    Regardless, there is no evidence of anything like the “reset” under Biden with Russia or China. Biden was famously the only incoming president since the end of the Cold War to make no concerted effort to improve relations with Russia at the beginning of his presidency. Only the most deranged Russia hawks thought he was being “soft” on Russia in his first year. No one could honestly mistake Biden’s China policy for one of accommodation and relaxation of tensions. 

    Mitchell’s attempt to lump all these things together under the heading of détente just shows how baseless these claims are. 

    China hawks need to pretend that the failures of Biden’s China policy are the result of détente, because he has largely governed according to the hawks’ preferences and the results have been middling to poor at best. Mitchell talks about a “misbegotten attempt at détente” to distract from the fact that the US is headed for a crash because it has been following the hawks’ roadmap. 

    Détente requires accommodation with another state with the goal of scaling back tensions and finding a modus vivendi. Unfortunately, that isn’t what the Biden administration has done, and it isn’t what it has been trying to do. The Biden administration has shown that it would prefer to pursue a policy of containment and rivalry across the board. Even when it seems to be offering olive branches, they come with enough conditions that the Chinese government is more likely to perceive them as veiled threats. 

    As Adam Tooze pointed out a few weeks ago, the administration’s attempts at reassurance were not so reassuring after all: “It is telling that what seems to be intended as a reasonable and accommodating statement is, in fact, so jarring. China must accept America’s demarcation of the status quo. If it does not respect boundaries drawn for it by Washington between harmless prosperity and historically consequential technological development, then it should expect to face massive sanctions.”

    The administration should pursue détente with China, but it seems extremely unlikely that the current political environment would allow that. US-China détente has been one of the principal supports of peace in East Asia for the last forty years, as Van Jackson has shown in Pacific Power Paradox, but that part of the old status quo has crumbled and collapsed. It is in the best interests of both countries and the entire region for the US and China to try to rebuild it for the sake of regional peace, but the political costs of doing so are likely to be high. 

    When hawks attack even the most modest efforts at reopening channels of communication, we know that the resistance to more substantive engagement will be intense. Then again, if the Biden administration is going to be accused of having a détente policy anyway, it might as well make the diplomatic effort and merit the attacks that will be coming no matter what it does.


    Subscribe to our Telegram channel

Read also

Biden pulls out of presidential race after analyzing poll data and party support

22 July 2024 - 10:44

US CENTCOM destroys Houthi unmanned boats in Red Sea

22 July 2024 - 10:32

Saudi MFA: Israeli attacks on Yemen harm Gaza truce efforts

22 July 2024 - 09:31

NATO puts 500,000 military personnel on high alert amid rising tensions with Russia

22 July 2024 - 10:56

President Biden steps down from 2024 race, endorses Kamala Harris

21 July 2024 - 22:06

India evacuates over 4,000 students from Bangladesh amid ongoing unrest

22 July 2024 - 10:07
Latest news

    NATO puts 500,000 military personnel on high alert amid rising tensions with Russia

    22 July 2024 - 10:56

    Biden pulls out of presidential race after analyzing poll data and party support

    22 July 2024 - 10:44

    US CENTCOM destroys Houthi unmanned boats in Red Sea

    22 July 2024 - 10:32

    Armenia - untrustworthy partner for any nation globally

    Expert insights on Caliber.Az

    22 July 2024 - 10:24

    Russian regions face intensive drone interceptions

    22 July 2024 - 10:19

    India evacuates over 4,000 students from Bangladesh amid ongoing unrest

    22 July 2024 - 10:07

    Erdogan: EU nations line up to purchase Turkish drones

    22 July 2024 - 09:55

    Presidential aide congratulates Azerbaijani media on National Press Day


    22 July 2024 - 09:50

    Tunisia calls on UNSC to put end to Israeli war crimes

    22 July 2024 - 09:43

    Saudi MFA: Israeli attacks on Yemen harm Gaza truce efforts

    22 July 2024 - 09:31

    Azerbaijani FM warns of consequences of Armenian provocations


    22 July 2024 - 09:20

    Turkish ice cream eaten with knife and fork

    22 July 2024 - 09:09

    Barcelona plans higher tax for short-cruise visitors

    22 July 2024 - 08:03

    Transit workers face surge in violence despite national crime decline in US

    22 July 2024 - 06:02

    Malaysia's presidents lead nation despite advanced years

    Age no barrier

    22 July 2024 - 04:03

    The Dubai party jet for hire for $15,000 an hour

    Luxury in the Skies

    22 July 2024 - 02:04

    American Airlines propels toward zero-emission future with hydrogen-electric engines

    22 July 2024 - 00:04

    President Biden steps down from 2024 race, endorses Kamala Harris

    21 July 2024 - 22:06

    Russian fighter jets intercept US B-52 bombers near border in routine encounter

    21 July 2024 - 22:02

    F-35 programme resumes deliveries with interim software solutions

    21 July 2024 - 20:03

    Foreign journalists witness devastation during tour to Azerbaijan’s Shusha


    21 July 2024 - 18:05

    Russia monitors West Nile fever spread amid imported cases

    21 July 2024 - 17:55

    Azerbaijan extends olive branch to Armenia with COP29 invitation

    21 July 2024 - 17:40

    German police foil IS terror plot targeting England's Euro 2024 final

    21 July 2024 - 17:30

    New era in the pipeline: Transformative changes in Southern Caucasus

    A region in transformation

    21 July 2024 - 17:16

    Russian fighters intercept US B-52 bombers near state border

    21 July 2024 - 17:01

    US professor: Azerbaijan’s Shusha summit tackles misinformation epidemic

    21 July 2024 - 16:46

    President Erdogan: Türkiye resolves global IT failure issues

    21 July 2024 - 16:31

    Erdogan: Equal status key to new Cyprus talks, warns against escalation

    21 July 2024 - 16:16

    Azerbaijan explores role of technology in combating disinformation

    As part of Shusha Global Media Forum

    21 July 2024 - 15:58

    Israeli PM to meet with Biden and address Congress during US visit

    21 July 2024 - 15:43

    Russia’s TASS deputy director warns of persistent global information wars

    21 July 2024 - 15:28

    Azerbaijani leader’s remarks on Armenia’s constitution reflect real conditions for peace - Georgian expert

    21 July 2024 - 15:13

    Houthi forces claim attacks on Israeli city, US ship in Red Sea

    21 July 2024 - 14:57

    Azerbaijani Defence Ministry presents weekly review


    21 July 2024 - 14:42

    UN chief urges restraint following Israeli airstrikes on Hudaydah

    21 July 2024 - 14:12

    Second Shusha Global Media Forum launches first panel on disinformation impact

    21 July 2024 - 13:57

    Russian analyst slams Armenia's reluctance to negotiate peace with Azerbaijan

    21 July 2024 - 13:42

    Iran's president-elect honors Gen Soleimani, vows to follow his unifying legacy

    21 July 2024 - 13:27

    Azerbaijani official slams social media giants for neglecting ethical standards

    Calls for AI regulation

    21 July 2024 - 13:20

All news