- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Biden administration has rejected as unserious appeals two lists of demands made by the Chinese government as preconditions for resetting ties, The Washington Times has learned.

The lists were handed over to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman during a meeting with Chinese officials in Tianjin, China, on July 26. They outline a catalog of grievances that Chinese officials describe as 16 “erroneous” U.S. policies toward China and 10 cases of concern to be rectified before ties can improve.

The demands are not expected to be raised during the virtual summit meeting Monday between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mr. Xi set the stage last week at a meeting of the Chinese Communist Party for continuing as party general secretary beyond the normal two, five-year terms for Chinese leaders.

The manner in which the lists were presented to Ms. Sherman was not serious and has had no impact on American policy, said a U.S. official who described the lists as “Marxist/Maoist ‘you must do these things’” demands.

“Other than laughing about it, there’s been no response to it … none, zero,” the official said. “We’ve never engaged on it, we’ve not responded to it, and we will not.”

The lists appear to reflect a bureaucratic struggle among groups within the Chinese leadership over how to deal with the United States.

One group of leaders favors very hard-line, anti-U.S. polices and is vying for influence within the senior leadership of the party — its Central Committee and Central Military Commission. A second party group favors less confrontational positions toward the United States and is ready for at least minimal engagement.

The differences are said to be a matter of nuance as both camps are seeking to undermine and constrain the United States, but the two groups support using very different tactics.

The lists of demands are Beijing’s response to the Biden administration’s announced dual-track policy of seeking cooperation and confrontation with China, a shift from the policies of the Trump administration.

After decades of conciliatory policies toward China, the U.S. government under then-President Trump put in place a series of policies based on the belief that China is seeking to replace the U.S.-led democratic world order and substitute its brand of anti-democratic communism.

The Biden administration has kept many of the China policies in place, but with a notable softening of official rhetoric toward Beijing that some observers say is aimed at gaining Chinese cooperation on climate change. U.S. and Chinese envoys mingled publicly at the just-concluded U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, and just before the closing on Saturday issued a joint statement on the need for global climate action.

Beijing believes the China hawks in the Biden administration have been marginalized, at least for now, said Michael Pillsbury, a China specialist with the Hudson Institute.

“The Chinese claim to have already achieved success in elevating [presidential climate envoy] John Kerry to be in charge of Joe Biden’s overall China strategy to make progress on China‘s list of demands,” Mr. Pillsbury said.

A central demand in the lists handed over by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was for the United States not to target China’s domestic Marxist-Leninist political system. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhou Lijian told reporters in Beijing on July 27 that ending American opposition to Chinese communism is one of three “bottom lines.”

“The first is that the U.S. must not challenge, slander or even attempt to subvert the path and system of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Mr. Zhou said.

“Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is China’s euphemism for market-oriented communism that has returned to prominence under Mr. Xi as the Chinese Communist Party seeks to diminish U.S. power and influence internationally while expanding its own.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan appeared to support that objective during a cable television interview on Nov. 7.

Previous U.S. policy sought to “bring about a fundamental transformation of the Chinese system. … That is not the object of the Biden administration,” Mr. Sullivan said on CNN.

The two other priorities are an end to what Mr. Zhao called U.S. efforts to disrupt Chinese development and a requirement that Washington not challenge China’s sovereignty or territorial integrity — a reference to questionable Chinese claims of ownership of most of the South China Sea and Beijing‘s more recent military incursions near Taiwan as part of a stepped-up drive to reunite self-ruling Taiwan with the mainland.

Maintaining the pressure

So far, the administration has not loosened many of the restrictive trade, tariff and financial policies imposed during the Trump administration, although the Commerce Department has granted export licenses to some Chinese companies on the department’s blacklist of firms identified as linked to the Chinese military.

Robust U.S. support for Taiwan also has not been walked back by the current administration.

The July lists of demands were similar to a list presented to the Australian government in November 2020. It listed 14 Australian policies Chinese leaders want changed as preconditions for improved bilateral relations.

That list was disclosed to the Australian news media and included demands for ending restrictions on Chinese companies and reversing the Australian government’s call for an international investigation of China for its handling of the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Beijing‘s demands appear to have largely backfired as Canberra has begun to decouple economically from China. Australia also joined a new tripartite security alliance with the United States and Britain known as AUKUS, widely seen as a vehicle for containing Chinese expansionism in Asia.

Details of lists of Chinese demands to the United States were not made public, but Mr. Zhao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, provided extensive details of what Beijing is seeking, telling reporters the United States “must change course and correct its mistakes.”

The spokesman outlined the demands as:

  • Ending the U.S. government assessment identifying China as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Halting criticism of what the State Department has called a policy of genocide by China in Xinjiang against minority Uyghurs.
  • Backing off criticism of Beijing for its pressure campaign in Hong Kong, where new national security rules have all but ended China’s promise to permit limited democratic rule to the former British colony.
  • Canceling stepped-up U.S. and allied naval and aerial operations designed to maintain free passage in the South China Sea.

Mr. Zhao said the list also includes a demand that the U.S. government “unconditionally revoke visa restrictions on members of the Communist Party of China and their family members” and end sanctions imposed on Chinese leaders, officials and government agencies for their role in human rights and other activities. These measures were key elements of the Trump administration‘s tough policy on China.

Lifting visa restrictions on thousands of Chinese students also is on the list, as well as a demand that the U.S. government “stop suppressing Chinese companies,” Mr. Zhao said.

Halting the policy of pressuring American universities and schools to close down China’s state-run Confucius Institutes, some of which have been linked by the Justice Department to illicit technology theft, also is on the lists.

The Chinese also demanded that the State Department remove the requirement for Chinese media to register as foreign agents, a policy imposed during the Trump administration. Other Chinese demands include a request that the United States halt “interfering in China’s internal affairs” and stop “damaging China’s interests,” Mr. Zhao said.

The spokesman also said China wants the United States to end “bloc” nation confrontations with China “under the guise of values.”

Mr. Zhao said one of the 10 cases was a demand for the United States to drop an extradition demand of Huawei Technologies Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou from Canada.

Ms. Meng and Huawei were facing charges of illegally doing business in Iran in violation of American sanctions. She was released in September after the prosecution was deferred by the Justice Department. There was no interference in the case by the White House — which is prohibited from intervening in such cases — and the deal for Ms. Meng’s release had been underway even before Mr. Biden took office, the official said.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing became involved in the case as part of efforts to free two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who were arrested and detained in China on what were widely seen as trumped-up spy charges shortly after Ms. Meng was arrested in Canada in late 2018. Both Canadians were released shortly after Ms. Meng was allowed to leave Canada. Neither Mr. Kovrig nor Mr. Spavor has spoken publicly about their treatment in China for nearly three years.

The Chinese lists are said by analysts to reflect strategic efforts to steer American policy toward China in ways favorable to Beijing by playing on perceived fears among Biden administration officials that deteriorating relations could eventually lead to war, according to U.S.officials.

Mr. Zhao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said China’s government wants the United States to end what he called “dangerous” policies in order to prevent ties “from getting out of control.”

Seeking ‘guardrails’

Ms. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, said her visit to China earlier this year sought to set up “guardrails” designed to preclude a conflict.

Chinese state-controlled media outlets warned in mid-2020 and early 2021 that the United States was preparing for a U.S. attack.

That prompted Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to make two phone calls to a Chinese general in October and January. During the calls, Gen. Milley made the unprecedented statement that the U.S. military was not preparing an attack on China and, if an attack were planned, that Gen. Milley would warn his Chinese counterpart in advance.

The harsh tone of the demands is the latest sign that the Chinese regime abandoned past diplomacy that was often described as “smiles and handshakes” in its encounters with U.S. leaders, analysts say. The new, more aggressive style has been called “wolf warrior” diplomacy, further alienating China from the United States and other nations.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng said during the July meeting with Ms. Sherman that the United States was not in a position to lecture China on human rights and democracy. In an apparent bid to counter U.S. charges of genocide against the Uyghurs, he reportedly noted that the United States itself at one time “engaged in genocide against Native Americans.”

Former State Department official John Tkacik calls the demands the “2021 Demands.”

Mr. Tkacik said the Chinese are seeking to reverse the Trump administration’s embrace of democratic Taiwan and to scale back the $16 billion in defensive arms offered to Taipei in the past several years. He predicted that China also will demand the United States withdraw all U.S. military personnel from Taiwan, following reports that Marines and Army Rangers are training Taiwanese forces.

China will demand that Biden abjure the Trump administration’s most annoying habit: referring to ‘China’ as ‘the Chinese Communist Party’ as if they were two separate things,” Mr. Tkacik stated in a recent article.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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