This week’s China visit by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is being portrayed as a conversation between top leaders of world powers. It’s diplomatic warfare at its finest, with two sides telling stories that they hope will sway observers from nation-states, NGOs, and corporate observers about their preferred narratives.
But the die has already been cast about the visit: China is going to win the battle of nation-state public relations because U.S. and other Western leaders are relying on 20th-century norms that China has broken, stomped on, and thrown into the dust heap of history.
Public relations attempts to convince target audiences of a story, and the best stories are built upon clear evidence. That’s why President Joe Biden’s story of a “thaw” between China and Western nations seems to be a one-way street, while China’s story of strength and dominance is built upon significant economic and military power, expanded diplomatic relations with U.S. allies and erstwhile allies, and pushing international norms.
In the last year, for example, the U.S. has sought to build relations with China by delaying sanctions and disavowing former U.S. House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. In the same time period, China sent a spy balloon across much of the U.S., threatened Pelosi’s life, spied on the U.S. from Cuba, and – the same week that administration appeared to lighten its critiques about the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 – nearly rammed a U.S. military ship.
Other major Western powers seem unable to see that China is remaking the post-World War II norms for nation-states. The World Health Organization parroted Chinese government talking points early in the COVID-19 pandemic instead of conducting independent investigations into the dictatorship’s claims. Last year, the Vatican, just a month after extending a compromise with China’s anti-religious authorities about naming bishops, found out that China approved bishops without consultation. And when China hosted the 2022 Winter Olympics, none of the world’s powers gave any meaningful pushback against the Chinese state’s totalitarian policies and systemic human rights abuses.
U.S.-led efforts turned into strong language after April’s G-7 meeting, and Blinken’s trip was delayed as a punishment in reaction to the spy balloon, but some nations don’t seem impressed. In March, Saudi Arabia announced major deals to supply China with oil, and just last weekend, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said he had “ignored” Western officials’ misgivings about the kingdom’s dealings with China. Even America’s nearby neighbors and treaty-bound allies have made overtures to China: Honduras recently broke off relations with Taiwan and opened an embassy in Beijing, and Hungary – a NATO member – now considers China a strategic partner, according to Foreign
China may not have the world’s largest economy, but it has spent decades becoming indispensable on the world stage. Its economic threats would be irrelevant if it wasn’t the world’s manufacturing leader, including for technical products like lithium-ion batteries, and its threats could be countered by the U.S. military if Pentagon leaders weren’t concerned that America would lose a hot war.
In short, the nation that caused a worldwide pandemic, steals other nations’ technology, and engages in genocide against Muslims and unborn children continues to sign treaties, host the Olympics, and ignore its own promises. Most national leaders probably prefer the U.S. story of thaws and compromises, but they know the truth: China has replaced the U.S. as the world’s most indispensable nation.
And that’s why it is winning the nation-state PR battle, no matter what story Blinken tells during and after next week’s visit. Nobody trusts China, but most people prefer to be on the side of the story they believe is going to win.
This piece was originally published at Real Clear World.