Appeasement has had chilling undertones of diplomatic catastrophe since the 1930s.
A footnote of flawed foreign policy and a warning from history, it was dusted off for the 21st Century.
But this time it was rebranded as “engagement” when dealing with the ruling Communist Party of China.
Fast forward to 2021 and it has proved an unmitigated failure, fueling security issues in the Asia-Pacific region, rampant technology theft and human rights violations from Beijing’s cadres.
“Contrary to [Washington’s] hopes, the liberal international order has not catechized the Chinese government into a responsible stakeholder,” Michael Sobolik, of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, said.
“If anything, the CCP has corrupted these institutions, and the nations that defend them, to serve its own interests. From stonewalling [Covid-19] pandemic investigations to infiltrating civil societies around the globe, China appears far more intent on changing Western nations than being changed by them,” he wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill back in February.
Against this backdrop, a new reality divides the United States and China.
Poisoned diplomacy dominates Beijing’s agenda. On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Feng launched an extraordinary tirade after talks with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.
What was said: “US-China relations have reached a stalemate and [there will be] serious consequences,” he warned in a statement released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Enemy at the gates: “The foundational reason is that some people in the US are treating China as an imagined enemy,” Xie said.
Angels and demons: “The hope may be that by demonizing China, the US could somehow … blame China for its own structural problems,” he added.
Agree to disagree
Deputy Secretary of State Sherman touched down in Beijing at the weekend during a whirlwind tour of diplomacy in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia. She also held discussions with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Big picture: Hardline rhetoric emanating from the heart of the CCP is destabilizing the Asia-Pacific region and fueling hostility with the US. The latest rift erupted in 2019 after Washington condemned Beijing for human rights abuses against ethnic Muslims in Xinjiang.
Major flashpoints: The crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and the threat to invade the island democracy of Taiwan are other issues of concern. Last week’s allegations that Beijing orchestrated a hacking breach at Microsoft also left China’s “Wolf Warrior” pack howling.
Superiority complex: “China would never accept any country that claims to be superior to others. If the US has not learned to treat other countries equally, China [has] the responsibility to help the US learn how to do this,” Foreign Minister Wang told China’s Phoenix Television before his meeting with Sherman.
President Xi Jinping’s inflammatory nationalistic policy might play well at home, but it has infuriated major democracies abroad. Beijing’s attempt to militarize the South China Sea has triggered a vocal and physical backlash from the US and its allies.
Malice in wonderland: “We will never allow anyone to bully, oppress, or subjugate [China]. Anyone who tries will find them on a collision course with a steel wall forged by 1.4 billion people,” Xi said in his “malice in wonderland” speech to mark the centenary of the Communist Party of China earlier this month.
Massive mistake: “Like Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler or George W Bush’s invasion of Iraq, President Xi has had an epic foreign-policy failure – he just doesn’t appear to have realized it yet,” Michael Schuman, the author of Superpower Interrupted: The Chinese History of the World, wrote in The Atlantic last year.
Tour of duty: “You’ll hear me talk a lot about partnerships and the value of partnerships. My goal is to strengthen relationships,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a media briefing ahead of his visit to Southeast Asia this week.