Xi Jinping's Top Diplomat Warns Joe Biden Not to Cross China's 'Red Line'

Xi Jinping's most senior diplomat issued a pointed warning to President Joe Biden about China's "red lines" on Tuesday when he addressed business leaders and experts at a U.S.-China advisory body.

The remarks made by high-ranking Politburo member Yang Jiechi—a past Chinese ambassador to Washington—were "full of Communist Party jargon," a former Pentagon official told Newsweek. Other observers have concluded Yang was very much playing to a domestic audience of one.

The Trump administration adopted "misguided policies" against Beijing, said Yang at the start of his near-half-hour virtual address to the New York-based National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

He said "Cold War thinking" had left bilateral ties in their "most difficult period" since formal relations began more than four decades ago—a result he attributed to so-called "China hawks," who he believed were responsible for Washington's "strategic misjudgment" of China as a competitor or "adversary."

He called the view "fundamentally and strategically wrong."

Despite Beijing's insistence that recent U.S. policies on China were solely the result of the previous administration and vocal critics such as former President Donald Trump and Secretary Mike Pompeo, Biden's Democratic foreign policy team has been largely in alignment in key areas concerning security, trade and technology.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is among new cabinet members to have recently spoken about bipartisan issues relating to China's policies, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, as well as widely reported human rights violations against Uighur Muslims and other Turkic minorities in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Yang, who is chief of the Communist Party's Central Foreign Affairs Commission chaired by Xi, delivered his government's most direct message to the Biden administration since the Chinese leader's own veiled remarks at a Davos address last month.

Bilateral relations now stood at a "key moment" and needed to be restored to a more "predictable and constructive tract," Yang said, before stating Beijing's "stable and consistent policy toward the United States," as well as its determination to defend its "sovereignty, security and development interests."

Yang described Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang as issues concerning "China's core interests," in which the U.S. "should stop interfering."

"They constitute a red line that must not be crossed," the Politburo member added. "Any trespassing would end up undermining China-U.S. relations and the United States' own interests."

Many of the Chinese Communist Party's central themes under President Xi were included in Yang's speech, including references to "win-win cooperation" and a "shared future for mankind." Similar phrases often appear in Chinese foreign ministry statements and press briefings.

Among his suggestions for restoring bilateral ties, Yang said think tanks, universities, media outlets and businesses should all contribute to improving U.S.-China relations. This appeared to show an inherent ideological difference between Beijing and Washington in how otherwise independent institutes should operate.

"Yang's speech was full of Communist Party jargon and platitudes associated with Xi Jinping, rather than a concerted attempt to chart a path to a better bilateral relationship," said Drew Thompson, who served eight years as the director for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

"The lack of introspection, or analysis of China's own policies and practices, and how they contributed to the current state of the relationship indicates that China is not offering to compromise or find middle ground," he told Newsweek.

"Yang is telling the Biden administration to accommodate China, or else," said Thompson, now a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore.

He added: "There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington about the challenge that China presents, and Yang Jiechi just reinforced that consensus."

Ryan Hass, a senior foreign policy expert at Washington's Brookings Institution, said Yang's remarks "misfired on timing, tone, and content."

In a Twitter thread, Hass said the speech, made before President Biden and Xi have even spoken, "felt like it was more carefully calibrated for a Chinese audience than an American one."

He added: "It lends an impression that Yang believes misunderstanding and 'narrow-minded prejudice' on the American side are the sources of the downturn in relations, and that with the right words, Yang can show American audiences that their concerns are unfounded and unjustified."

The Chinese government's top diplomat appeared to publicly put the onus of mending bilateral ties on the Biden administration, Hass noted, "essentially delivering a public 'to do' list to the incoming team."

"This doesn't feel like the work of a seasoned diplomat genuinely working to repair relations," he wrote.

Yang also said China remained "fully committed" to its historic "reform and opening-up" policy, led by the country's former leader Deng Xiaoping.

The mention appears to be in response to the widely held view that Xi has brought an end to decades of reforms—both economic and political—under his leadership.

During a Bloomberg New Economy Forum held last November, former President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who were both in office in the 1990s, discussed their previous expectations for China to trend toward more liberalism as it joined the global economy.

In China, state-owned media outlets received Yang's speech with positivity. Editorials in state broadcaster CCTV and Communist Party tabloid Global Times described the official's remarks as having offered "pragmatic" solutions to the U.S.-China impasse.

The party newspaper released an op-ed by Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, titled: "Washington should make first move to mend ties with Beijing: expert."

On Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price reacted to questions about the "red lines" in Yang's speech by saying: "I think we would respond by saying we urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialog with Taiwan's democratically elected leadership."

It was a repeat of the department's statement released two weeks earlier, when the Chinese military sent more than two dozen warplanes into the Taiwan Strait toward Taiwan.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Price said the U.S. was "in serious competition with China."

"We know that China is engaged in a range of conduct that hurts American workers. It blunts our technological edge, it threatens our alliances and influence in international organizations, and China is engaged in gross human rights violations that shock the conscience," he said.

Price emphasised the Biden administration's position to work with Beijing on climate, saying it was in the U.S.'s national interest "to cooperate on a limited basis with China."

Yang Jiechi Addresses Media At Press Conference
File photo: Yang Jiechi, director of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Commission. Yang is a Politburo member who served as Chinese ambassador to Washington between 2001 and 2005. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images