High-level US officials made several trips to China over the summer despite persistent reports of Chinese espionage in the United States.
“The current policy is a mix of engagement and competition,” Brent Sadler, senior fellow for naval warfare and advanced technology at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. “The result is a confused set of signals being sent to Beijing that at best are supposed to be US confusion, but at worst weakness and indecision.”
Sandler’s comments come as the US continued to try to engage China diplomatically, with US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month. Raimondo was the fourth high-ranking official to visit China this summer, following trips by climate envoy John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.
The visits come despite heightened tensions with China, including multiple reports of the country spying on the United States. Earlier this year, a high-altitude hot air balloon originating in China flew across North America and directly over the contiguous US and was allowed to pass over large parts of the country before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The incident was condemned by the US, with Blinken canceling a planned trip to China at the time because of the balloon.
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In another case earlier this month, the FBI released a report noting that it had tracked more than 100 incidents of Chinese nationals trying to break into US military facilities while posing as tourists.
“The greatest long-term counterintelligence threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property comes from China,” an FBI spokesperson told Fox News Digital in response to the report. “The Chinese government is engaged in a broad, diverse campaign of theft and bad influence with no regard for law or international norms that the FBI will not tolerate.”
Raimondo herself saw her email hacked by Chinese hackers before her trip to the country.
“I was hacked, which was not appreciated, to say the least. I brought it up clearly, I put it on the table,” he said, according to a report by NBC News. “I didn’t pull any punches.”
However, Raimondo also argued that the lines of communication must remain open between the US and China, arguing that a breakdown in talks could lead to miscommunication and further escalation of tensions.
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“We are in a tough competition with China at every level and anyone who tells you otherwise is naive,” Raimondo said. “All that being said, we have to manage this competition. Conflict is in no one’s interest.”
President Biden also seemingly contributed to the confusion, which hit the Chinese leadership shortly after Blinken’s trip to the country was a success, according to an NPR report.
“China is in real economic trouble. And the reason why Xi Jinping was so upset when I shot down that balloon with two wagonloads of spy equipment is that he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said in June. . “That’s the big embarrassment for the dictators, when they didn’t know what happened. This shouldn’t have gone where it did. It blew off course through Alaska and then into the United States. And it did ‘I don’t know.’
The comments drew immediate ire from China’s foreign ministry, with spokesman Mao Ning accusing Biden of violating “diplomatic protocol.”
“[President Biden’s remarks] we’re going completely against the facts and seriously violating diplomatic protocol and seriously offending China’s political dignity… It’s a blatant political provocation,” the spokesman said, according to NPR.
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However, Blinken met with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where according to State Department spokesman the two “had a frank and constructive discussion, building on recent high-level commitments between the two countries to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the US-China relationship.”
Blinken is also expected to host Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before the end of the year, while Biden is in talks to meet with President Xi in the US sometime in the fall, according to a Reuters report.
“As the president has said, he hopes to meet with President Xi sometime later this fall,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters earlier this month. “We believe there is no substitute for one-on-one talks at the leaders’ level, so we will continue to work on the possibility of that.”
According to Sandler, the diplomatic confusion is only exacerbated by the fact that the US military is not currently strong enough to fully counter a threat from China.
“Add to this the consensus in Congress that our defenses are too weak and need to be rebuilt, and this could likely lead the Chinese to view efforts to engage and cooperate as undermining. With that in mind, better relations through dialogue alone is unlikely and worse If U.S. engagement with China was not handled poorly and supported by a visible military presence, that China could end up as an opening for more aggressive actions,” Sandler told Fox News Digital.
Sandler argued that many of the mixed signals stem from America’s economic cooperation with China, noting current negotiations to build an electric vehicle battery factory. But Sandler also pointed out that any Chinese company is going to be associated with the Communist Party, arguing that political leaders should “recognize that the CCP is not going to be a free and open market or society.”
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As for combating Chinese espionage, Sandler said it would be important to “educate the public” about the seriousness of the threat and “bring awareness to universities that sometimes involve members of the Chinese Communist Party.” Sadler also said it is important for the US to give local and state police agencies the tools they need to be able to detect “illegal KKK activities.”
“Better efforts also need to be made to protect our Chinese-American citizens and those fleeing the CCP from its reach even here at home,” Sandler said. “An example is the numerous illegal overseas Chinese police stations that were used to intimidate people here in the United States.”
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.