President Biden’s summit with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on the sidelines of the recent APEC gathering was an embarrassment from start to finish. No matter how much the media tries to put lipstick on this meeting, it is still a pig.
The most outrageous embarrassment had — surprisingly — little to do with Biden, our feeble commander-in-chief. Instead, it had everything to do with America’s corporate elites, who at a dinner hosted by the U.S.-China Business Council and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations jumped to their feet to applaud Chinese President Xi. Not only did the tycoons pay thousands of dollars to dine with China’s most autocratic and ruthless leader since Mao, many ditched a dinner with Biden held at the same time. (Good work, White House advance team.)
Sitting at Xi’s table cost tens of thousands of dollars and availed those lucky few — what, exactly?
A chance to accost the Chinese despot over his country’s sanctioned theft of hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. know-how and its cyber hacking of major institutions? An opportunity to inquire about some of the prominent political and business leaders who have gone “missing” under Xi’s rule, like the CEO of a live-streaming service backed by Tencent, who hasn’t been heard from in days? Maybe an opening to ask about the harassment of U.S. companies trying to do business in China, which often face fines, office raids and capricious meddling? Get the Great Leader’s thoughts on why Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently called China “uninvestable” and foreign direct investment into China has collapsed?
Did Blackrock CEO Larry Fink, an energetic booster until very recently of ESG investing, ask Xi about the 300 coal-fired power plants that Beijing plans to build? Did Tim Cook chat about why Apple is exploring moving some manufacturing out of China? Probably not.
Notwithstanding China’s floundering economy, U.S. CEOs still hope to sell into China’s large and growing middle class and access the country’s cheap workforce. That is understandable, if lamentable. Trade between the two nations remains immense, totaling $760 billion last year. But, given China’s relentless trampling of trade rules and cheating on international agreements, a standing O seems a bit over the top.
Another embarrassment: In the lead-up to the APEC event, California Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed jumped into action to clean up their squalid city, leaving much of downtown’s most notorious neighborhood sparkling — not for taxpayers or residents but for President Xi and the other assorted dignitaries. It turns out those who manage the city and indeed the state are not only capable of moving the drug-addled street people out of sight into shelters elsewhere and cleaning the streets, but that they recognize what a blight those vagrants are on once-beautiful San Francisco. They simply do not have the will to get it done for the poor saps who call San Francisco home.
Newsome explained: “I know folks are saying, ‘Oh they’re just cleaning up this place because all those fancy leaders are coming to town.’ That’s true, because it’s true — but it’s also true for months and months and months before APEC, we’ve been having conversations,” said the wanna-be presidential candidate. Well, governor, “conversations” are one thing, getting the job done is quite another.
Newsom offensively likened moving out the panhandlers to cleaning up your home before entertaining guests. Fair enough, but most of us try to keep our homes presentable for our families, too. The Hoover Institution reported in a 2022 study that 352 companies left California between 2018 and 2022, escaping to other states for lower taxes, a more friendly business climate and a higher standard of living. It’s not just firms fleeing the sky-high cost of living and rampant crime; California lost a net 340,000 people to other states from 2021 to 2022, with a growing number of residents leaving for Florida and Arizona. Living in a city taken over by druggies and the homeless and ignored by local officials is not appealing.
Notwithstanding his deplorable mismanagement of California, Newsom still aspires — keenly — to replace Joe Biden and run for president. His embarrassing bravado was on full display on the heels of his showy trip to Beijing only two weeks ago. He signaled that he too is in the big leagues, and was awarded a coveted meeting with Xi to prove the point.
His ambitions seem justified, given Biden’s lack of vitality and polling that shows an overwhelming majority of Americans think the president is too old to run again. Biden appeared to fall asleep at one gathering, and his performance at the briefest of follow-up press conferences showed a man sadly in decline, unable to remember names and faces in the White House press corps and, embarrassingly, in his one unscripted moment, describing Xi once again as a dictator. He’s right, but it was not the message the White House sought to convey.
Biden announced a deal that requires China to rein in the export of chemicals and “pill presses” used to make fentanyl, a drug that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. In exchange, the U.S. lifted sanctions on China’s Ministry of Public Security’s Institute of Forensic Science and China’s National Narcotics Laboratory, which had been placed on the U.S. “Entity List” by the Trump White House in 2020 for human rights abuses.
Will China live up to their end of this bargain? Probably about as well as they have abided by most promises made by Xi in recent years. No military installations on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, as Xi promised Obama? Broken. Peaking of carbon dioxide emissions around 2030, as per the Paris Climate Accord? Broken.
Joe Biden says he’s a fan of “trust but verify” when it comes to Xi. At least he’s got that one right.
Published in The Hill