White House treads carefully as protests unfold in China as US tries to mend relations with Beijing

Date:


Washington
CNN

As frustrated protesters take to the streets across China to protest the government’s draconian Covid-19 restrictions — which are fueling rare civil unrest and clashes between the public and officials — the Biden White House chooses its words carefully and deliberately.

Top US officials who have been keeping a close eye on the unrest in China have made two things clear in recent days: that the Biden administration supports the right of all people to protest peacefully and that it will support China’s so-called zero-Covid policy. simply does not see it as a solid approach.

But government officials have been careful not to step outside the confines of those public remarks, cautiously sidestepping wider questions about the US’s assessment of the situation or its possible future role in supporting the Chinese people’s call for greater freedom. .

That sensitivity and caution is in no small part a reflection of the deeply complicated – and tenuous – situation in US-China relations today. Relations between the two countries had reached a multi-decade low this year, with tensions fueled by the standoff over Taiwan, economic disputes and other disagreements.

A senior US official stressed to CNN that the White House is taking care not to overstate the nature of the protests, noting that while there have been some calls for Xi Jinping to resign, most protests in the country have been over a billion people seem small, localized and focused more on the narrow goals of ending the Covid lockdowns and securing better working conditions than on a loftier pursuit of democracy.

“We have to be very careful not to create a distorted reality,” the official said.

A historic bilateral meeting between President Joe Biden and Xi earlier this month on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali, Indonesia — the first face-to-face meeting between the two men since Biden took office — was intended to mark a sort of starting point in trying strengthen those strained relationships.

And while that meeting, which lasted more than three hours, barely resolved some of the longest-standing issues between the two superpowers, Biden and top officials made it clear afterwards that there was general agreement on the importance of keeping the lines of communication between Washington and Beijing open. – and finding common ground.

“It was not an easy meeting,” another senior US official told CNN, “but they both understood that they represent countries with very different views of the world, which must deal responsibly with competition.” Other officials said the US-China relationship is now at least at a “bottom,” with both countries in relative agreement on issues such as climate change and the danger of Russia using a nuclear weapon.

This week, the White House insisted that the administration intends to build on that progress.

“There has been no change in our desire to continue to see these communication channels remain open, and we were encouraged when we came away from the G20 that both leaders were able to agree on getting some of these working-level discussions open again,” National Security That’s what Council spokesman John Kirby said Monday in the briefing room of the White House.

The first senior US official said “zero concessions” have been made to China since the Biden-Xi meeting, but acknowledged that both countries have retreated to their respective corners when it comes to openly hostile rhetoric – a deliberate approach to a continued deterioration of relations.

However, a separate senior government official said, “For us, this is not about the US-China relationship. This is about the fundamental right of peaceful protests and the demonstrators’ ability to speak for themselves. We are monitoring this closely.”

Asked by a reporter if the protests in China could mark a moment for the US to “advocate more forcefully” for freedom and democracy — especially given how strongly Biden has spoken out about the important distinction between autocracy and democracy, both at home and abroad – Kirby replied, “This is, I think, a time to reaffirm what we believe in free assembly and peaceful protest.”

“And we have done that and we will continue to do that,” Kirby continued, “whether it’s people protesting in Iran or China or anywhere in the world.”

What Kirby failed to mention was that Biden himself has weighed in much more forcefully on the unfolding protests in Iran — even saying at a campaign event earlier this month, “We are going to liberate Iran. They will free themselves pretty quickly.

However, officials argued to CNN that according to the White House, the protests in Iran and China are not, at least for now, comparable. In Iran, the regime routinely kills protesters, themselves fighting for a largely united goal: to end the Islamic Republic, following the deaths of women in the custody of Iran’s so-called “morality police”. Still, White House officials view the protests in China as remarkable because they are evidence that Beijing’s total blackout is fraught, a senior official said.

Asked to explain how the US is weighing up the protests in China given the context of the tenuous Washington-Beijing relationship — and what role the US thinks it could play as people in China call for more freedom — a senior government official said it It would be best to leave the answer to that question for now: “We’re watching this closely.”

While Biden administration officials have been closely monitoring the situation on the ground for several days, a US official acknowledged that it was still difficult to assess the scope and magnitude of what was happening on the ground. The early nature of the protests, along with the inherent unpredictability of such events, have played a role in the nature of the response, the official said.

But so is the concern that, shared by several senior officials on Biden’s national security team, appearing to lean toward the protesters would actually undermine what is happening. Concerns that Chinese officials would use any response from the US as an attempt to portray the protests as a vicious foreign effort to undermine China has been a well-considered factor, a senior administration official said.

White House officials have explicitly and deliberately distanced themselves from protesters’ more fiery calls related to Xi and the communist party. There is no plan to shift that position, part of an implicit acknowledgment of a reality that carries bilateral and geopolitical implications of enormous significance.

Still, the White House has continued to monitor events closely — and Biden has been regularly updated — as U.S. officials try to assess how the protests will play out and, perhaps more importantly, how Chinese officials will respond as the effort grows in size and intensity. . .

U.S. officials have refused to weigh in on what actions, if any, would be taken if a particularly harsh repression comes in the coming days or weeks. “We’re not doing any hypotheses at the moment,” an official said. “We’re watching closely and just don’t have anything more than that.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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