The relationship between the United States and China has been moving for some time toward an elusive inflection point. The uncertainty is over — the sudden shift came on Monday night. That’s when the leaders of the world’s dueling superpowers faced off by video conference. President Joe Biden had his chance to confront the man responsible – ultimately, if not personally — for his nation’s catastrophic release of COVID-19 upon the world. Instead, he held his tongue. The world now knows who’s boss: President Xi Jinping.
Sitting face to face, virtually, with his Chinese counterpart for the first time as the U.S. president, Mr. Biden could have bored in with a steely gaze reinforced by a patriotic heart. The moment called for an honest accounting of China’s role — intentional or otherwise — in strewing the deadly virus that has killed 765,000 Americans and more than 5 million globally. The chance was lost, and it won’t return.
Not that China’s master would have buckled before a demand for accountability. Beijing’s powers that be dropped the appearance of cooperation with World Health Organization investigators four months ago and have clapped back at calls for transparency ever since. Even the regime’s most ardent apologists have tabled the fable that the virus is a malevolent product of Mother Nature.
The courage to confront is a moral duty that Mr. Biden avoided with his feckless attempt to sweep the pandemic under the rug. It is as though countless recurrences of human suffering are insufficient to remind each generation that, as Edmund Burke once observed, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Granted, the president raised “concerns about the PRC’s practices in Xinjiang,” an antiseptic description of systemic persecution of Muslim Uighurs in northwest China. However, NBA star Enes Kanter has garnered greater attention for the issue by wearing game sneakers inscribed with “free China.”
Mr. Biden also touched on the need for “managing strategic risks,” a polite reference to the unsettling threat posed by China’s upgrade of its nuclear arsenal with hypersonic missiles. And straddling the Far East fence, he endorsed the U.S. “one China” that at once recognizes Beijing’s sovereignty over Taiwan while upholding the breakaway island’s right to defend itself from annexation.
Sojourners in the wilderness are forewarned that should they cross paths with a bear, making eye contact is to be avoided lest the creature feel challenged. Perhaps the president believes the same caution applies to Communist China, which is frequently caricatured in the likeness of a dragon.
Mr. Biden’s failure to speak out for the millions silenced by the deadly virus that originated in China represents an inflection point. It has told Mr. Xi he has little to fear from this “leader of the free world.” As Sun Tzu lectured in “The Art of War,” “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”