If anyone was still holding out any hopes that the change of administrations in Washington would cool down tensions with China, last week’s first meeting between the Biden administration’s two top foreign policy officials and their Chinese counterparts should put them to rest. In a no-holds-barred exchange of remarks in front of reporters before the private discussions began, both sides lambasted each other with a litany of grievances, perceived slights and criticisms.
The Chinese delegation’s willingness to forcefully challenge the American side in such a public forum serves as further confirmation, if any were still needed, that the days when China would seek to hide its strength and bide its time are over. Beijing has clearly concluded that the United States is a global power in decline, and that the time is ripe for China to press its perceived advantages.
In reading the American press these days, it’s hard not to get the sense that many observers in the U.S. agree with that assessment. Of course, American declinism is an old pastime in the U.S., as close as the country gets to a national religion. But after four shambolic years of Donald Trump’s presidency and a year into America’s failed pandemic response, the current mood, as reflected in much of the commentary and analysis of the U.S.-China rivalry, seems to be one of resignation and shaken confidence.