© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How Blinken's trips to China, Ukraine could further Biden's international goals

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing, Sunday, June 18, 2023.
Leah Millis
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives in Beijing, Sunday, June 18, 2023.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken just met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as the two nations work to patch up their damaged relationship. The high-profile meeting was months in the making and both sides say much work remains amid mutual suspicion and rivalry.

Blinken is now turning his attention to the war in Ukraine, announcing a new aid package — at the same time China pledged not to supply arms to Russia.

Joining us now for analysis is Hamilton College Professor Alan Cafruny, an expert on international relations.

Let's start with Blinken's trip to China. Why has the relationship worsened so much?

Well, first, a little background on this. When China opened up in the 1990s, United States, corporate America and Wall Street took full advantage of this. And the capital and investment poured into China. We all know about this. A pretty familiar history to people. It was very beneficial to corporate America for a long time. But by the Obama administration, especially the second one, it became pretty clear to United States that China was not so much a subordinated partner but a rival to the United States. And so, we began to see increasing pushback. First, a pivot to Asia under Obama moving ships and soldiers into the Pacific. And then with Trump, first a trade war. And then you could see with Biden, the beginning of real sanctions especially on China's high tech and especially semiconductors. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that this was really a declaration of economic warfare on the part of the United States. In addition to this, of course, there's the geopolitical situation, where again, the United States has been marshaling its forces in the Pacific. And of course, China is to some extent, at least responding in kind with development of nuclear forces, and of course, all the activities that we've seen in Taiwan. So, this is a very, very large international rivalry, much more serious and dangerous than the Cold War, because China is virtually now a peer competitor in the economic sphere. And the background, then to Blinken's visit is that there have been a lot of provocations. I would say more on the part of the United States, although China has also been increasingly aggressive in its own way. And there's been actually a just a decline in any kind of communications between the two sides. And so I think, both sides had reasons to try to enhance communication. And that's hence that's the background to Blinken's visit. Did it do much? There were some positives, dealing with international students. The United States has 300,000 Chinese students studying here; air travel, some changes there, a lot of fine words exchanged, but I don't think overall that this is going to lead to any kind of major rapprochement, as they say in diplomatic circles.

Do we know how the Chinese are viewing this particular meeting and the relationship?

Well, I think we do. I think China for its own reason, wants to have better relations, Chinese economy is not doing particularly well. And China still is very much interested in foreign investments, and in trade. In 2022 and 2023 US-China trade is the highest that it's ever been. American capital continues to pour into China. Jamie Dimon was just there for JP Morgan, Elon Musk for Tesla and Bill Gates for Microsoft actually met with Xi Jinping before Blinken did. So, it's a complicated relationship. The world economy is so tightly integrated, that it's just hard for sanctions and these kinds of things to work out the way leaders would necessarily want them to.

Well, let's turn now to what I mentioned earlier, which is Blinken's visit to Ukraine and China has pledged not to supply arms to Russia in that ongoing war. What is success look like for Blinken's role as we are now well over a year into Russia's invasion of Ukraine?

Well, this is essentially a proxy war between the United States and NATO on the one hand, and Russia, on the other hand, fought through Ukraine. As you know, right now, we're about two or three weeks into a Ukrainian counter offensive. And at this point, it doesn't appear that it's going very well, for Ukraine. Ukraine is running out of ammunition. And so, there are a lot of uncertainties. And I think the United States and NATO are coming to a point where they're going to have to decide, do we want to continue to escalate even further, you've seen that the most F-16 airplanes, but they're not going to be delivered to the fall. So, this is a very, very serious situation. China, it's true that they are not providing weapons to Russia. But on the other hand, they are cooperating with Russia most especially with imports of natural gas from Russia and oil. I think China will not give that up, given that American generals and officials are speculating about when the war with China will begin. I'm not exaggerating this. So, I wouldn't call it an alliance, but a limited partnership between Russia and China.

So, at this stage, given the sort of fork in the road that you've alluded to here, do you see the possibility for a ceasefire or some sort of sit down between the parties here to stop the war?

I sure hope so. That's what there needs to be. There was a Minsk agreement that had been agreed to by France and Germany, and Russia. And that should have been carried out long before the invasion. And we find out now that Germany and France were never really taking that seriously, even in April after the invasion. It looked as if the parties were coming to some sort of an agreement. And the United States essentially vetoed that. It's time for there to be serious negotiations, and there's going to have to be a compromise. Crimea is essentially Russian, and it's going to have to remain with Russia. This is not a time for perfection. And there's going to have to be some sort of limit on Ukraine going into NATO, while on the other hand, there should be guarantees for Ukrainian statehood for Ukrainian sovereignty. Whether that's going to take place or not, I don't know. But that's what we need to hope for otherwise, there will be continuing carnage, and it's not going to end well.

So just one more thing, let me zoom out a little bit, as here in the States, a lot of attention is focused on the 2024 presidential election. Have you been able to identify a foreign policy Biden doctrine to any degree and you know, considering the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the way that the administration has tried to approach the Russia Ukraine war? And then of course, as we've been talking about China, do we have a sense of sort of what Biden wants?

I think the withdrawal from Afghanistan was humiliating to United States and to Biden and that may have encouraged Biden to take a harder line on Russia at this point. If anything, there are some signs within the Republican Party, that it's time to negotiate. There's a limit to how many billions should be spent on this. So, Biden, I think, with respect to Russia, is a hawk. And there's very little doubt about that, and Blinken and Biden and the foreign policy team that they have. With respect to China, I think policy is essentially bipartisan. You'll see the Republicans attacking Biden for being too soft on China, but I don't think they can get very far with that. It's pretty much bipartisan.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.