China traps the US into negotiations, then breaks its promises
Matthew Pottinger, the former deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, warned that the Biden administration must not fall into China’s “negotiation traps” or “let China draw out the clock.” The Biden team should heed this sage advice.
Decades of experience in dealing with communist China should have taught the U.S. some hard lessons. The first is that the U.S. must never trust China’s totalitarian regime. Second, negotiation is a delaying tactic to gain a strategic opportunity. Third, if an agreement is reached through negotiation, expect that Beijing will breach the agreement when it suits its purpose. This is because treachery is embedded into the political DNA of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Employing unscrupulous means is a consistent characteristic of communist movements. For communists, the seizure of state power, the destruction of capitalism and the achievement of communist rule justifies the use of any tactic — including violence and terror, treachery and deception, and countless other inhumane and immoral acts. Communists assert that they represent the interests of all people and whatever they do is for the betterment of mankind. In fact, they are determined to seize power, maintain it, and use it against their enemies. In the name of “the people,” they are never constrained by an existing code of conduct, accepted moral principles, or treaties and agreements.
Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin was the master of using unscrupulous means to achieve his goals. Lenin betrayed any agreement when it no longer suited his purposes — as he said: “Treaties are like pie crusts, made to be broken.” The Soviet Union broke a lot of pie crusts. The Soviet government negotiated and signed many treaties with countries, but hardly abided by any. It certainly did not do so without strong monitoring and consistent pressure on Moscow by other states.
The CCP closely follows Lenin’s playbook. Before the CCP seized power, it had many negotiations with the central government of the Republic of China (in Taiwan since 1949). But it used the opportunity to strengthen itself and prepare insurrection against the government. When the time came, it broke promises and overthrew the legitimate government. The 1984 agreement on Hong Kong between China and the United Kingdom is a good example of how promises made become promises broken by the CCP. In order to take over Hong Kong, China promised to maintain Hong Kong’s political system unchanged for 50 years. Just a few years after signing the agreement, Beijing quietly began to undermine Hong Kong’s independence. Now Hong Kong’s leader, who is controlled by Chinese leader Xi Jinping, is openly assaulting the agreement and the people of Hong Kong to assert China’s absolute control.
Indeed, the CCP not only fails to keep its promises with its adversaries, it does not keep them with its communist allies either — having breached treaties with the Soviet Union, Vietnam and other communist allies.
The CCP’s strategy of negotiation should be considered an updated Leninism. According to an article in Qiushi, the CCP’s top official theoretical journal, just as a sheep and a wolf can coexist under certain conditions, sometimes it is necessary to make “compromises” that are only a temporary retreat in order to finally defeat the enemy. This is akin to Lenin’s recognition that sometimes it is necessary to take a step back in order to take two forward. In the past few years, Xi repeatedly has stressed that “China is still in an important period of strategic opportunities,” which means, in CCP phraseology, the regime needs more time to gather strength to achieve Xi’s “Chinese Dream” of world dominance. Once China reaches its goal of preparation for dominance, it “won’t be afraid of waging war,” as former leader Deng Xiaoping once stated. This is why China often employs negotiations or dialogues as a strategy to delay a premature confrontation with the U.S. until it has gained sufficient power.
Since President Biden’s election, Beijing has been offering an olive branch in its declarations. In December, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi called for reopening dialogues at all levels, and specifically, to “work together to formulate three lists on dialogue, communication and dispute management.” In his first call with Secretary of State Antony Blinken this month, Yang Jiechi, a CCP Politburo member and director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, again suggested establishing a healthy relationship with the U.S.
However, the history of negotiating with communist China has proven the process to be feckless. The CCP is never sincere about reaching compromises and abiding by an agreement. Yang Jiechi’s talk with Blinken further confirmed this when he emphasized that China’s core interests such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang are not negotiable, and warned that the U.S. must not cross any of these “red lines.” It cannot escape attention that the list of China’s core interests has been growing longer. Fundamental issues of human rights, concentration camps for Muslims, internet freedom, territorial disputes — all are off limits. Given the CCP’s default option, any negotiations with China are meaningless and merely a tool for China to gain time for its eventual confrontation with the U.S.
In the past two decades, the U.S. has held many negotiations and dialogues with China in many areas, including trade, the rule of law and human rights. None produced positive outcomes. China made commitments not to militarize the South China Sea, to end cyber attacks and its theft of American intellectual property, and to end coerced technology transfer. All these commitments have been broken. Most recently, Xi reneged on the trade deal negotiated with President Trump.
History with China should make the Biden administration think twice before contemplating reopening or creating new dialogues. Instead, the U.S. must sustain the Trump administration’s policies of pressure to cause positive changes, deny Beijing more time to strengthen itself, and so prevent it from becoming even more powerful and able to damage U.S. interests and national security.
Bradley A. Thayer is co-author of “How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics.”
Lianchao Han is vice president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China. After the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, he was one of the founders of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students and Scholars. He worked in the U.S. Senate for 12 years, as legislative counsel and policy director for three senators.