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Kerry’s Tone-Deaf China Climate Visit

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AP Photo/Charles Krupa

What’s wrong with this picture? The U.S. is engaged in an existential Great Power Competition with China and has just suffered over 560,000 deaths in the last year from a virus unleashed upon the world by the Chinese Communist Party, and the Biden Administration’s first senior official to visit the country is there to discuss – wait for it – climate change?


You cannot make this up. Biden’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry touched down in Shanghai on Wednesday for three days of meetings with his Chinese counterparts on what the two powers can do to counter climate change and global warming. In doing so, he became the first senior Biden Administration official to visit the country, less than three months into the president’s term.

Whatever your views on the science behind climate change – and as Holman Jenkins points out this week, many questions have been raised on the science for decades – are there not more pressing issues for the Biden team to raise with Chinese Communist Party leadership in their first visit to our number one global rival?

To his credit, Biden’s own Secretary of State Tony Blinken outlined a few of them in remarks while in Japan last month: “China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abuse human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, and assert maritime claims in the South China Sea that violate international law…We’re united in the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific region, where countries follow the rules, cooperate whenever they can, and resolve their differences peacefully. And in particular, we will push back if necessary when China uses coercion or aggression to get its way,” he told reporters at a news conference.


You can add to Secretary Blinken’s list China’s stealing intellectual property and personal information of U.S. citizens, no small trespass in itself.

President Trump’s Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe summed up in December the overall threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party under President Xi a few months ago based on the daily intelligence briefings he received: “[T]he People’s Republic of China poses the greatest threat to America today, and the greatest threat to democracy and freedom world-wide since World War II…The intelligence is clear:  Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily, and technologically.”

What’s more, Kerry’s visit comes as the U.S. and the are world reeling from a year-long pandemic that originated in Wuhan, China, and has caused close to 3 million deaths worldwide, and cost Earth some $10 trillion. 

The Chinese Communist Party also continues to cover up the origins of the virus and the actions it failed to take to slow its spread, as well as refusing to indicate its plans to compensate the world for unleashing it.

Might any of these topics rank a little higher than climate change for the first visit to China by a senior Biden Administration official?

Sadly, Kerry’s tone-deaf visit to Shanghai this week is actually the second "own-goal" that Team Biden has scored with Chinese officials in less than a month, as Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan allowed themselves to be lectured by Chinese officials at a March 18 summit in Anchorage, Alaska, over America's race- and human-rights record. And it’s par-for-the-course for Kerry, who sank into hot water as the 2004 Democrat presidential candidate when he told college students that “if you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq.” Kerry’s remarks were viewed widely as critical of U.S. troops deployed in that country, for which he later apologized.


Unfortunately, such dismissive elitism is typical of the jet-setting Kerry.  But Americans should expect that President Biden's team, on their first visit to China, would squeeze the Middle Kingdom on matters far more urgent than potential global warming.

John Ullyot was Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and NSC Spokesman from 2019-2021.

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