◎ We see three potential scenarios for the future of the Sino-U.S. relationship under the Biden-Harris administration.
On March 3, Antony Blinken announced the Biden-Harris administration’s interim foreign policy in his first major speech as Secretary of State. Hours later, the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance” was published on the White House website, with little fanfare.
In the absence of deeper context, the Biden-Harris administration’s interim strategies sound like common-sense solutions to America’s foreign policy concerns. The United States will look to defend democracy at home and abroad, will work with allies and partners, and “whenever we can, we will choose engagement,” according to Secretary Blinken. Likewise, the administration recognizes China as America’s “biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century,” laying out an agenda for out-competing “a more assertive and authoritarian China over the long-term” and suggesting continuity with the previous administration’s tough stance.
These approaches, however, raise suspicion when examined in light of the Biden-Harris administration’s actions to date vis-à-vis democracy and China, as well as the backgrounds of its national security and foreign policy officials. Should the administration continue the course it has started, its interim strategies will pave the way for America’s “re-engagement” with Communist China—or a “reformed” version of the regime.
In the following analysis, we will provide some insight on the Biden-Harris administration’s “defending our democracy” rhetoric, as well as the implications of the Biden-Harris administration’s interim strategies as concerns the future of U.S. China policy. We have identified three potential scenarios for the Sino-U.S. relationship based on the interim strategies, to be examined in the order of their likelihood. Finally, we look at some steps Americans and people of the free world can take to address the Chinese Communist Party threat.
In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell warned about the use of “meaningless words.” He wrote, “In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.” Orwell continued, “Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.”
To get a sense of what Orwell meant, we need only juxtapose the Biden-Harris administration’s rhetoric and actions on democracy with its pledge to defend it. The administration’s interim strategies hint that in the name of “defending our democracy,” Washington is preparing to both expand the national security state and centralize power in the executive branch. To “revitalize democracy,” the Biden-Harris administration likely plans to use the national security apparatus to consolidate power at home, punish political enemies, and ram through pet projects like climate change actions and “equity” programs.
If the Biden-Harris administration’s “defending our democracy” rhetoric reads like an exercise in Orwell’s politicized English, then how it intends to “prevail in strategic competition with China” is similarly problematic. It is clear from the speeches of the current and former Secretaries of State that the Biden-Harris administration views Communist China and the Sino-U.S. relationship very differently from the Trump administration. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo identified the CCP as a “Marxist-Leninist Party focused on struggle and international domination,” drew a clear distinction between the Party and the Chinese people, and said that America “must not return” to the engagement policy that fueled the CCP’s rise. In contrast, Secretary Antony Blinken said that America will choose engagement “whenever we can,” put China last when announcing the Biden-Harris administration’s top eight foreign policy priorities, and has referred to the communist regime as “China” rather than “the CCP.”
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity,” Orwell cautioned. The Biden-Harris administration’s choice of “China” over “the CCP” and its effort to essentialize America as a democracy instead of the constitutional republic envisioned by the Framers has its uses as a common denominator for rallying allies and partners. But the language is vague enough to allow the administration to switch direction on the “China challenge” when the opportunity presents itself. For instance, the Biden-Harris administration could reclassify authoritarian China as a “democracy” and “strengthen engagement” with the regime in a scenario where CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping is ousted and Party elites whom the Western establishment intelligentsia consider to be “reform-minded” take over. Such strategic flexibility is already baked into the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance,” which calls for deepening partnerships with Singapore, a nation-state that the U.S. has long considered to be authoritarian, as well as with Vietnam, which is run by its Communist Party. Henry Kissinger is purported to have said that “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests”; students of Kissinger in the Biden-Harris administration would undoubtedly have learned this lesson well.
We would not be surprised to see an authoritarian, post-Xi Chinese regime facilitate Washington’s strategic shift on China by aggressively rebranding itself as a “democracy.” After all, CCP propaganda has been consistently marketing the regime as a democracy—the “biggest democracy in the world” in fact, as proclaimed by Party mouthpiece People’s Daily in a 2017 article. The potential for malign regimes like the CCP to deploy vague terms like “democracy” to further its doublethink is precisely why George Orwell described such terminology as “meaningless” and warned about its “dishonest” use. He wrote, “It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.”
There is little reason to assume that the Biden-Harris administration, increasingly engaged in “democracy” doublethink at home, will hesitate to apply the same duplicity in foreign policy. Its “democracy” rhetoric paves the road to justify re-engagement with tyrannical, authoritarian regimes—especially after leaders not aligned with the agenda of Western establishment elites are replaced.
‘Anti-Xi, not anti-CCP’
The Biden-Harris administration’s softer, targeted approach to China echoes an American China strategy that eschews regime change in favor of engineering a more amicable leadership within the Chinese Communist Party. Published a little over a week by the Atlantic Council after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, “The Longer Telegram” calls on America to leverage “internal political dynamics” in the CCP with the goal of returning the regime to “its pre-2013 path—i.e., the pre-Xi strategic status quo.” Successful implementation of the strategy would see Xi Jinping replaced by a “more moderate collective leadership” like those under “Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.” Striking similarities between “The Longer Telegram” and the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance” suggest that the latter strategy was either heavily influenced by the former, or that they are in essence indistinguishable.
An “anti-Xi, not anti-CCP” strategy will require the Biden-Harris administration to stay tough on China in strategic areas that hurt Xi, including Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, technology, and finance. At the same time such an approach demands that the administration not offend the CCP unduly, so as to facilitate re-engagement with Beijing. This appears to be the underlying logic governing how the U.S. relationship with Communist China “will be competitive when it should be, collaborative when it can be, and adversarial when it must be,” as Secretary Blinken put it in his speech announcing the interim foreign policy strategy.
A post-Xi China emerging in the near future is more plausible than mainstream discourse in the media and China-watching community would suggest. Establishment outlets and scholars have been selling the idea of an “unrivaled” Xi Jinping destined for a lifetime in office, but careful study taking into account the political economy of the CCP regime and factional dynamics in the Party reveals a complex and precarious reality facing the “core” leader. Xi has amassed titles and consolidated a high degree of power, but he lacks the “power prestige”—or “quan wei” (權威)—of his predecessors (Mao and Deng) due to a significant lack of real accomplishments (“poverty alleviation” is a sham) and a string of failures (Hong Kong, the coronavirus outbreak, weakening economy, etc.). Xi’s lack of “quan wei” means that he is not automatically guaranteed a norm-breaking third term as General Secretary when the Party’s elite convene the 20th Party Congress in 2022. This vulnerability also leaves him open to attacks from political rivals, especially from the Jiang Zemin faction, which dominated key organs (political and legal affairs, propaganda, intelligence, etc.) and important sectors (finance, state-owned enterprises, etc.) in the regime from 1997 to 2012.
The recent saga involving Jack Ma and Ant Group has shed some light on the Xi-Jiang factional struggle and the strength of the Jiang faction—aspects of Chinese elite politics usually obscured by the Communist Party’s image of monolithic unity. A Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal article noted that Xi blocked Ant’s record initial public offering partly because “political families that represent a potential challenge to President Xi and his inner circle,” particularly relatives of Jiang Zemin and Jiang’s former lieutenants, stood to earn billions if the IPO went through. Notably, the Journal said Jiang Zemin “remains a force behind the scenes” in China today—a highly unusual characterization of the former Party boss when one considers that Western China-watchers have largely written Jiang off as a political force; some figures even contrast his reign fondly with that of Xi’s, despite Jiang’s hand in forced organ harvesting in China and in laying the foundations for the CCP’s techno-totalitarian surveillance state. Revelations of intra-Party struggle in mainstream press are rare. They typically surface when factional fighting is particularly fierce and bode ill for the Xi camp, which stands to lose the most from fissures undermining the Party’s monolithic image.
An unholy alliance consisting of the “anti-Xi coalition” in the CCP and Western establishment elites could conceivably mastermind and execute a strategy culminating in a premature end to Xi Jinping’s “lifetime” reign. If the Biden-Harris administration is in on this strategy, then Washington will maintain and even ramp up pressure against Communist China between now and the 20th Party Congress in 2022, with a focus on undermining Xi. With Xi out of the way, Washington and establishment elites would be free to return to engagement with the CCP—or a potential successor regime. Removing Xi, however, will not end the CCP threat; in an earlier analysis, we looked at how the so-called “moderate collective leadership” predating Xi Jinping was responsible for horrific persecution, built the infrastructure of the current techno-totalitarian state, and covered up the 2003 SARS pandemic while working on dangerous research that may have led to the 2019 coronavirus outbreak.
Naturally, critics of the Biden-Harris administration will question its willingness to confront Xi Jinping and Communist China at all given the administration’s CCP ties and stance on China so far. Observers note that key personnel in the administration have either made accommodative remarks about China and the CCP’s rise, or have CCP business connections (see here and here). Some of the Biden-Harris administration’s early policies also indicate a weaker approach to China, including seeking America’s re-entry into the CCP-compromised World Health Organization and the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as subjecting the Trump administration’s sanctions and other China policies to procedural review. Moreover, the administration “allowed” U.S. diplomats in China to be subjected to humiliating anal swab testing for COVID-19, a highly symbolic “bending over” to the CCP.
Then there is the question of President Joe Biden himself. When asked about the CCP’s persecution of the Uyghurs and erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms during a CNN town hall, Biden appeared to craft an excuse for Xi Jinping by explaining that “culturally, there are different norms that each country and they—their leaders—are expected to follow.” Biden’s odd remarks only fuel deep concerns about the CCP’s capture of U.S. political and business elites, and particularly of the president via his son Hunter. After the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Renmin University scholar Di Dongsheng bragged to a public audience that the CCP had been “leveraging the core circle of power and influence in the United States” for the past three to four decades (when the engagement strategy was in force). Di effectively admitted that President Trump was right to suspect the CCP’s role in Biden son’s shady investments funds, saying, “Who helped [Hunter Biden] establish his funds? Got it? There are a lot of ‘deals’ here.”
However, critics should not underestimate the Biden-Harris administration’s ability to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” as Secretary Blinken told former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on her podcast. Warships of the U.S. and her European allies continue to carry out freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, keeping pressure on the CCP. Partial decoupling is underway, with President Biden signing an executive order to “strengthen the resilience of America’s supply chains,” and the American Institute in Taiwan working with Germany and Japan to “win more collaboration and investment from Taiwan’s key chip and tech companies,” according to a Nikkei Asia report. And with the exception of Biden’s eyebrow rising remarks at the CNN town hall, his administration has been consistent in calling out human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the undermining of democracy and freedoms in Hong Kong.
Based on the above analysis, we see three potential scenarios for the future of the Sino-U.S. relationship under the Biden-Harris administration.
i. ‘The Longer Telegram’
1) The Biden-Harris administration pursues an “anti-Xi, not anti-CCP” China strategy that is very similar, if not functionally identical, to “The Longer Telegram.” Of the three scenarios, we believe this to be the most probable based on currently available information.
2) Being “anti-Xi, not anti-CCP” entails not being critical of the Party where possible (including “tolerating” anal swabs of diplomatic staff and “minor” humiliations), while condemning regime policies where Xi Jinping either holds or is seen to hold personal responsibility. This means calling out the PRC’s actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong but not naming the communist government, as Secretary Blinken did in his speech addressing the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Feb. 24. It also means defending and supporting Taiwan against the mainland, rather than loosening up on the island’s security as some conservative pundits fear. More importantly, the strategy entails referring to the Chinese communist regime as “China” instead of “the CCP”—acknowledging and reinforcing the Party’s political legitimacy.
The outcome of the aforementioned actions is twofold. First, Xi’s factional rivals can leverage Western condemnation of Xi’s policies or U.S. actions that hurt the regime’s interests to attack him at opportune moments and present serious opposition to his bid for a third office term in 2022. Second, the Biden-Harris administration’s stance leaves the door open for engagement with the CCP or a “new” political entity in a post-Xi Chinese regime.
3) The “anti-Xi, not anti-CCP” gives the Biden-Harris administration strong incentive to retain some of the Trump administration’s tougher policies, including technology blacklists and restrictions, financial delisting of Chinese companies, limited supply chain decoupling, sanctions, and tariffs. Doing so keeps the pressure on Xi Jinping, denying him the opportunity to claim credit for bringing about markedly improved Sino-U.S. relations by “delaying and waiting for change” (以拖待變) in America, i.e. outlasting the Trump administration. Xi’s rivals can also wield America’s continued “tough on China” approach as a cudgel against him.
When dealing with a post-Xi regime, the Biden-Harris administration could move away from Trump’s tougher China policies more slowly than expected. The administration may be keen on engagement, but it will undoubtedly wish to maintain America’s global dominance for as long as possible while keeping China down—regardless of who is in charge. After all, Secretary Blinken noted that Washington wishes to “engage China from a position of strength.” Bipartisan consensus on the “China challenge” in Congress will also throw up speed bumps to re-engagement.
4) The Biden-Harris administration, working in tandem with allies and partner nations, could look to apply pressure on Xi Jinping around “sensitive” periods in the CCP between now and the 20th Party Congress.
“Sensitive” periods include:
- The CCP centennial celebrations in July 2021.
- The Beidaihe meeting in late summer 2021.
- The Sixth Plenum of the 19th Central Committee in fall 2021.
- The Winter Olympics in February 2022.
- The 2022 Two Sessions.
- The CCP’s 101st anniversary celebrations in July 2022.
- The Beidaihe meeting in late summer 2022, if one is held.
- The Seventh Plenum of the 19th Central Committee in fall 2022.
- The 20th Party Congress in late fall 2022.
Pressure could come in the form of:
- Focusing global attention on the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, including ramped up news coverage, think-tank reports, designations of genocide or crimes against humanity by governments or international organizations, etc.
- Increasing international pressure on China over the erosion of autonomy and freedoms in Hong Kong.
- Increasing international support for Taiwan.
- Increasing naval activity in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait by America and her allies, including the Quad.
- “Vaccine diplomacy” by America and her allies in the Indo-Pacific region and even with “Belt and Road” countries to counter CCP hegemonic ambitions.
- If the People’s Liberation Army is too adventurous on China’s borders in the presence of military forces belonging to America and her allies, a minor “incident” could “transpire,” leaving the PLA and Xi Jinping with a “black eye.” Xi would be extra cautious about retaliation because he will not want to be embroiled in military conflict of any sort before the 20th Party Congress where possible lest the conflict develops disastrously and scuppers his bid for a third term. Of course, CCP military action before the 20th Party Congress cannot be ruled out entirely, especially if Xi is blinded by hubris and is reliant on faulty intelligence.
- The U.S. could leverage financial tools against the CCP regime to spark financial crises in China.
5) The anonymous author of the “The Longer Telegram” notes that successful implementation of the strategy will see Xi Jinping “in time be replaced by the more traditional form of Communist Party leadership.” It is with this “more traditional form of Communist Party leadership” that the Biden-Harris administration will be looking to carry out serious re-engagement and substantially improve Sino-U.S. ties.
The Biden-Harris administration and Western establishment elites are undoubtedly aware that replacing Xi could inadvertently lead to the collapse of the Party, especially if his ouster occurs in dramatic fashion. In this scenario, the “more traditional” Party leadership could blame Xi and his lieutenants for all the Party’s evils, then “clean the slate” by dissolving and “reincarnating” the CCP into another authoritarian entity (“Chinese Progressive Party,” etc.). Governed by largely the same elites who cut their teeth in the Jiang and Hu eras, such a “new China” would merely be “old wine in a new bottle,” and pose a threat to America and the rest of the world, much as the CCP does today. However, Washington and Western establishment elites could, at least initially, sell the new “reformed” regime as a trustworthy “democracy” ready for full engagement.
In our counter to “The Longer Telegram,” we wrote that the “highly volatile and vicious nature of intra-Party factional struggle makes it nigh impossible to guarantee a ‘successful’ outcome for schemers behind leadership change.” Rather than yielding a return to the era of amicable cross-Pacific relations, efforts to oust Xi could instead bring about unintended Black Swans, leading to uncontrollable consequences for China and the world.
ii. ‘Sino-Soviet split redux’
1) The Biden-Harris administration does not adopt “The Longer Telegram” because administration officials are too compromised by the CCP, do not wish to risk rocking the boat with Beijing, or both. Yet in seeking to avoid ceding American global dominance to China, the administration works to preserve establishment elite and national interests. We estimate this scenario to be somewhat probable at present time.
2) There are two reasons why this scenario is dubbed the “Sino-Soviet split redux.” First, America on its current trajectory under the Biden-Harris administration will move towards authoritarianism and communism, and the Sino-U.S. relationship will resemble two large socialist regimes at loggerheads. Second, Sino-U.S. relations will be frosty to lukewarm in the long-run; by comparison, “The Longer Telegram” scenario would see the relationship start out cold, but potentially warm up significantly, depending on the manner and outcome of Xi Jinping’s attempted ouster.
3) The Biden-Harris administration could gradually roll back the Trump administration’s China policies and tariffs, with the exception of sanctions and restrictions in key areas like technology and finance. The administration could also implement so-called “sustainable deterrence” in the Indo-Pacific, gradually ceding ground to Beijing in the long run, but supporting Taiwan and Quad nations in the interim. Finally, Washington could continue to condemn Communist China on certain human rights issues and over Hong Kong, but quietly pursue limited re-engagement with the CCP.
Re-engagement is presently underway. During a March 9 White House press conference, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the Biden-Harris administration “remain(s) engaged directly … at a range of levels” with China. “Of course, there’ll be a range of engagements that the President and his National Security team will have with China and other countries in the region in the months and years ahead, but we are directly engaged. There are a range of issues we, of course, have talked with the Chinese about through those engagements. We don’t hold back about our concerns, but we also look for opportunities to work together,” she added.
According to a March 9 Wall Street Journal report, the U.S. and China are engaging in a “confidence-building exercise” by co-chairing a G-20 study group centered on “climate-related financial risks.”
On March 10, a senior administration official said Secretary Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan will meet with Politburo member Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18 and March 19. The official added that “the goal will be to compare notes on what each of our hopes and plans are for domestic politics, what our goals are internationally, regionally and globally.” Both sides will also discuss the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and “undeclared economic embargoes” Communist China has placed on Australia.
iii. ‘Democracy defended’
1) The most optimistic, yet least probable scenario, “democracy defended” sees the Biden-Harris administration adopt an adversarial stance towards Communist China following a review of the Trump administration’s China policies. Hardline China policies are retained and even strengthened, and the Biden-Harris administration implements democratic reforms at home without the Orwellian doublethink or entrenchment of the national security state.
Meanwhile, the CCP resumes its Trump-era stance towards America, leaving the Sino-U.S. relationship in a downward spiral. Whether or not Xi Jinping wins a third term in 2022 depends on how hard the Biden-Harris administration pushes Communist China from now until the 20th Party Congress.
Self-responsibility and the CCP threat
We are not optimistic that the “more in-depth national security strategy” Secretary Blinken said the Biden-Harris administration is presently working on will shift much from its “initial direction,” which is favorable to the CCP. Based on our analysis of the interim national security and foreign policy strategies, we do not expect the administration to confront Communist China with anywhere near the same effectiveness as the Trump administration, despite the fact that some of Trump’s policies have been and could be carried over. There will be ideological battle—just not between a Constitution-inspired America that finally exposes the brutal Marxist-Leninist CCP regime, but between an authoritarian, partially CCP-captured American government and “anti-democratic forces” in the populace.
Americans will have to increasingly take up personal responsibility in countering the CCP threat. Americans can reacquaint themselves with the country’s founding principles, documents, and values, as well as learn more about totalitarianism, communism, and the tragedies that transpired in countries ruled by communist regimes. Americans also need to self-educate on the CCP and learn how it has endangered America and the free world. Further, Americans should talk to their elected representatives about the CCP threat and ask what they have done or are doing to resolve the issue. Politicians in state legislatures, governments, and Congress should work on and pass legislation to tackle the CCP problem regardless of what the White House does; Governor Ron DeSantis’s proposal to curb CCP intellectual property theft and Confucius Institutes in Florida is an example of what states can do in taking responsibility to seriously address the “China challenge.”
People of the free world must also be prepared to counter the CCP through education, counterpropaganda, and targeted policies. America’s allies and partner nations must also be ready to hold Washington accountable to its pledge to take on the “China challenge” and genuinely defend democracies from the danger of the CCP and its Marxist-Leninist totalitarian struggle. Efforts by free nations to purchase wine from Australia and pineapples from Taiwan in response to the CCP’s bullying in recent months are heartening, as they show willingness among America’s allies and partner nations to stand up to the CCP regardless of Washington’s stance.
 This is best seen in President Biden’s support of the nearly 800-page “For the People Act of 2021” (H.R. 1) and his “Executive Order on Promoting Access to Voting.” Both H.R. 1 and Biden’s executive order would expand access to voting to the point where election security, integrity, and fairness are threatened (vote harvesting legalized, lax voter ID checks, etc.), election fraud opportunities are increased, and the election process is federalized instead of decentralized (see here and here). Both H.R. 1 and Biden’s executive order would also violate First Amendment rights by expanding government regulation and censorship of political campaigns and speech. This amounts to voter suppression on a large scale, and runs contrary to the Biden-Harris administration’s stated goal of “defending, strengthening, and renewing” democracy.
Some may argue that the new administration has been in office for only a few weeks and it would not be fair to pass judgement too quickly. How the Biden-Harris administration acts on the following issues will determine their seriousness and sincerity in defending America’s democracy:
- For all its flaws, H.R. 1 does propose some helpful anti-corruption and election reform measures. Will the Biden-Harris administration work with Congress and the Republicans to pass a genuine, targeted election reform bill that addresses election integrity issues, safeguards First Amendment rights, and does not impose unconstitutional mandates on the states?
- The Biden-Harris administration continues to view the Capitol breach on Jan. 6 as an “insurrection” despite contrary evidence and in lieu of a thorough, impartial investigation. President Biden alludes to the Jan. 6 incident as “an unprecedented assault on our democracy” and Republicans challenging the electoral votes—something that Democrats have done in previous elections—as “a coordinated attempt to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the American people never before seen in our history.” Will the Biden-Harris administration abandon hyperpartisan, nonfactual rhetoric and make a genuine effort to unify, and not balkanize, the country?
- The 2020 U.S. elections saw many irregularities in six swing states. Americans have raised serious allegations of election fraud that were never given a proper hearing with the courts dismissing cases on procedural grounds. Meanwhile, in an article titled “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election,” TIME magazine reported that “a well-funded cabal of powerful people, ranging across industries and ideologies, working together behind the scenes to influence perceptions, change rules and laws, steer media coverage and control the flow of information” to shape the election outcome. Will the Biden-Harris administration investigate the “well-funded cabal” and 2020 election irregularities? Or will those who voice concerns be labeled as “anti-democratic forces” who “use misinformation, disinformation, and weaponized corruption to exploit perceived weaknesses and sow division within and among free nations, erode existing international rules, and promote alternative models of authoritarian governance” as stated in the “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance”?
- The “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” talks about having “transparency and accountability” in government and rooting out corruption as part of “revitalizing our own democracy.” Will the Biden-Harris administration investigate New York state governor Andrew Cuomo’s coverup of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes in a July 2020 report, and impose federal criminal charges if warranted?
 The “Interim National Security Strategic Guidance” calls for:
- “…a new and broader understanding of national security…”
- “In foreign policy and national security, just as in domestic policy, we have to chart a new course.”
- Reversing the trends of “anti-democratic forces” at home is “essential to our national security.”
- Argues that “[b]ecause traditional distinctions between foreign and domestic policy—and among national security, economic security, health security, and environmental security—are less meaningful than ever before, we will reform and rethink our agencies, departments, interagency processes, and White House organization to reflect this new reality.” This blurring of distinctions is evident in reviewing the eight foreign policy priorities listed by Secretary Blinken. Four of the priorities—“renew democracy,” “create a humane and effective immigration system,” “tackle the climate crisis and drive a green energy revolution,” and “secure our leadership in technology”—are domestic policies.
It is true that “distinctions between foreign and domestic policy … are less meaningful than ever before” in the 21st century. This, however, also means that the Biden-Harris administration can technically treat any of its pet projects as a “national security” issue, and mobilize the federal government via the National Security Council to do the executive branch’s bidding in the name of “safeguarding national security and our democracy.” The conclusion of the Biden-Harris administration’s “reform and rethink” of governmental processes could lead to the creation of a bona fide imperial presidency, where the executive branch uses “national security” as a pretext for wielding the national security state to accomplish its agenda while circumventing the checks and balances of the legislative and judicial branches.
 America’s Founders opted for a republican form of government because they were keen to avoid the experience of ancient democracies in Greece and Rome. As James Madison wrote in Federalist 9, “It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.”
The Founders, who were also inspired by Tocqueville, wanted to avoid the “tyranny of the majority” inherent in direct democracies, or in Madison’s words, “the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”
The solution was a “Republican Form of Government” as written in the Constitution. It should be noted that the word “democracy” does not appear in either the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence. Madison makes explicit the distinction in Federalist 14: “It is, that in a democracy, the people meet and exercise the government in person; in a republic, they assemble and administer it by their representatives and agents. A democracy, consequently, will be confined to a small spot. A republic may be extended over a large region.”
 Both “The Longer Telegram” and the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance” propose working with allies and partners to counter China, addressing America’s economic and institutional weaknesses, maintaining America’s technology, military, and economic dominance, and confronting China on certain human rights issues. Further, both strategies are in sync on the theme of “defending our democracy”; “The Longer Telegram” even proposes officially naming America’s China strategy “Defending Our Democracies.”
Both strategies also indicate a preference for America’s China policy to be driven by the executive branch and the national security apparatus. “The Longer Telegram” calls for a “fully coordinated interagency and interallied effort, under the central direction of the national security advisor, underpinned by a presidential directive with the bipartisan political support to endure across multiple administrations.” And as noted earlier, the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance” calls for a “reform and rethink” of America’s “agencies, departments, interagency processes,” and for “White House organization to reflect this new reality.” The Biden-Harris administration’s appointment of four top national security officials (NSC Indo-Pacific affairs coordinator, two NSC senior China directors, and one NSC China director) to oversee China policy suggests that there is little daylight between the two strategies, and partially corroborates our hypothesis of the expansion of the national security state under this administration.
 This note will briefly explain why the nonagenarian Jiang Zemin and his faction “remains a force behind the scenes” in China today through CCP factional logic and by drawing an American analogy. Longtime SinoInsider readers who are familiar with CCP factional operations should feel free to skip this note.
First, factions are ever-present in the CCP, even during periods of one-man dictatorship. Mao Zedong, the CCP’s strongest leader and first dictator, had to deal with powerful factions in his time. Mao’s effort to get on top of factional struggle in the CCP elite after the disastrous Great Leap Forward led to the Cultural Revolution. And even during the Cultural Revolution, Mao’s second-in-command Lin Biao and his supporters plotted against the Chairman. In today’s context, scarce information of factional struggle does not mean absence of factional struggle. The Xi-Jiang struggle is a carry-over from the struggle between Hu and Jiang, and many of Xi Jinping’s policies partially account for Jiang faction meddling, including the anti-corruption campaign, the passage of a national security law and creation of a supra-authority national security organization in Hong Kong, and the suspension of Ant Group’s IPO.
Second, Jiang Zemin remains an important figurehead for his namesake faction even though it is doubtful that he is personally involved in faction-related activities today given his advanced age. CCP officials will track Jiang Zemin’s public appearances, mentions in mainland and overseas press, and news pertaining to his faction to gauge the former Party boss’s “quan wei” and fortunes. For example, CCP officials reading the Feb. 16 Wall Street Journal report would gather that the Jiang faction is still powerful and thriving. Therefore, they would become inclined to inaction and procrastination (“bu zuo wei,” “不作爲”) as they wait for the dust to settle in the Xi-Jiang struggle before putting their chips in with the more likely winner; CCP officials know from regime history that those who bet on the wrong horse pay steep personal costs after power changes hands. To counter Jiang faction influence and keep officials on their toes, Xi has resorted to continually boosting his “quan wei” in Party propaganda by playing up his “achievements” and “core” status, cracking the whip ever so often with the anti-corruption campaign, and making countless personnel changes to break up entrenched factional networks in the bureaucracy.
Third, the Jiang faction “remains a force behind the scenes” because it oversaw the career progression of many CCP officials during the faction’s long era of dominance (1997 to 2012). CCP officials who are “clients” of Jiang faction “patrons” are inclined to protect factional interests first as they intertwine with personal interests, and would cheer a return to the pre-Xi era of lax Party discipline and regulations. To draw a loose American analogy, Xi Jinping has a longstanding problem with a recalcitrant CCP “permanent bureaucracy” or “deep state,” something that he cannot simply resolve by wielding authority as Party General Secretary and “core” leader; former U.S. president Donald Trump faced a similar dilemma while in office even though his constitutional powers were no different from his predecessors. Xi’s solution for the “permanent bureaucracy” problem is anti-corruption purges and personnel reshuffle in the military and the officialdom. For example, officials who have been reshuffled to the CCP’s Hong Kong and Macau apparatus since early 2020 tend to be known loyalists of Xi, or have little prior experience in the Hong Kong and Macau apparatus, which has long been swayed by the Jiang faction.