China engaged in high-level saber-rattling and boldness when Chinese Politburo member and State Councilor Yang Jiechi used the muscular red-line term in diplomacy.
“We in China hope that the United States will rise above the outdated mentality of zero-sum, major-power rivalry and work with China to keep the relationship on the right track,” Yang said on February 2, 2021, in a speech to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.
He exhorted the U.S. to stop “harassing Chinese students, restricting Chinese media outlets, shutting down Confucius Institutes and suppressing Chinese companies.” He said Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang affairs were a “red line that must not be crossed.”
As I have written about before, the famous diplomatic red line’s origins transport us back to the Roman Republic. It revolved around a meeting between the Roman ambassador and the King of the Seleucid Empire, threatening Egypt’s Roman protectorate in 168 B.C.
The meager Roman mission was to force the king to return to Syria. The exchange between the two, as the story itself, has many variations. Initially, the Seleucid’s laugh at such a paltry show of force until the lone-old ambassador draws a line in the sand and says that he had better be marching toward Syria when he steps across the line, not Egypt.
The king retreated, and the red line was born. The concept of a red line was reborn in the contemporary period during the Obama administration when on August 20, 2012, Obama declared an American red line if Assad used chemical weapons again. The Assad regime continued to use them, and there were no dire consequences. The administration had failed in their weak attempt to learn from antiquity.
This vacillation was the bane of the Obama years. The diminishment of American credibility abroad, the self-loathing of American exceptionalism, and the inability to take a firm stand against the worst tyrants, all while hollowing out the U.S. military.
If we parse Communist bombast, we are left with the following: China, which wishes to be the sole superpower by the 100th anniversary of the PRC’s founding in 2049, hopes for the USA to stop an “outdated mentality.”
America should allow Chinese companies to engage in economic espionage, propagandize through our media, and ignore the grossest violations of human rights on the planet. This is all within the context of China’s subjugation of Hong Kong, the ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs, the internal colonization of Tibet, and the intimidation of Taiwan.
If there was ever a self-evident difference between the kind of nation the United States is versus others, it is here. We issued a red line to stop an evil regime from using weapons of mass destruction on their people, and China issues a red line to engage in the same style of evil at home and abroad.
The China red-line speech reflects a very typical Chinese diplomatic style: mix threat, friendliness and victimhood in the same statement and policy.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken responded by stating, “that the United States will work together with its allies and partners in defense of our shared values and interests to hold the [People’s Republic of China] accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, including across the Taiwan Strait, and its undermining of the rules-based international system.”
China responded by dialing up the temperature on its original red-line rhetoric when Ambassador for the PRC to the United States Cui Tiankai belittled America in an interview stating that America “still shows the example of power rather than the power of example. You don’t have an effective foreign policy just by talking tough or playing tough. This is not the right way of doing diplomacy.”
China has recently escalated its hostile posture toward Taiwan with continuous probing into Taiwanese airspace. It further plans to engage in a “trilateral naval exercise” with Russia and Iran in the Indian Ocean.
China’s neo-Maoist ideology, combined with anti-democratic propaganda, a self-righteous persona, mixed with revanchist psychology, is a toxic atmosphere that the United States must stand against at every point globally. China needs to be taught the real meaning of a Roman red line.