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A Likely Biden-Xi Sit-down in Rome: G20 aka G2?

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The US administration officials are citing the same three factors for a possible Biden-Xi summit in coming October as they were for the 3-hour long Biden-Putin sit-down last month in Switzerland. If so, then why is it that Biden chose to first summit with the Russian “killer” and not with the “thug” in Beijing? Because as President Biden sees it, the stakes are far higher with Xi. Analysts in Washington are telling us, to the White House, Russia is a mere “irritation,” but Beijing has become a serious existential threat.  

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In recent weeks, two of Biden’s top foreign policy “troika” have publicly stated, with Biden-Putin summit in the rearview the President is gearing up for a higher-stakes summit encounter: with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Jake Sullivan and Kurt Campbell on more than one occasion in recent weeks have indicated a possible Biden-Xi sit-down at the G20 summit in Rome in October-end, which both the leaders are expected to attend. If the sit-down does take place, questions will still be asked why a Biden-Xi summit, being described as the “most consequential foreign policy move” of the Biden presidency, did not precede an inconsequential Biden-Putin meet?

Indeed, after four disastrous Trump years for China, Beijing has been long hoping that Biden in the White House would mean less tumult in the US-China relations. However, President Biden’s tougher stance on China is not something Beijing’s top diplomats in-charge of implementing the country’s US had bargained for. Even President Xi himself, upon whom the CPC politburo has bestowed all decision-making powers to “manage” China’s relations with the United States, has been clueless as to why Biden’s America is continuing to keep China on the defensive, and for how long? But Xi Jinping it seems, thanks to Biden’s “less than satisfying” European tour, is now suddenly optimistic of a one-to-one meeting with Biden on the cards.     

As was expected, Biden’s maiden foreign tour has been evaluated a success or failure based on mostly subjective assessments, ie, determined more by one’s geographical location and geopolitical worldview. Yet despite claims of Biden’s European tour being an outright success by some, it is nonetheless true amid mixed reactions and mismatched expectations, the two sides (ie, The US and the EU) were left with unanswered questions: how to forge “alliance of Western democracies” against authoritarian rivals? How to “reinvigorate the liberal democratic model”? How to arrive at a consensus about how to deal with China? According to Pierre Vimont, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe, in spite of the joint statement issued at the end of the EU-US summit, “a more than visible shortcoming was on the issue of long-term future relationship with China.” 

Not particularly enamored by the slogan “America is back,” Europe’s focus seemed to be on getting from the Chinese leaders a clear commitment to abide by a genuine rules-based international order, particularly in trade matters where Europe wants to impose an improved level playing field. Just as a Moscow-based security affairs analyst recently commented: “Most EU countries do not want to fight China. They believe America is imposing China and Europe on each other as ‘unwanted enemies.’ For they also believe, unlike China and America, Europe’s ambitions are regional and not global.”

Speaking of the summit diplomacy, especially when the US presidents are to hold    sit-downs with an adversary, apparently, internal negotiations within the administration is viewed as a tougher road. For example, even though the White House tried to sell the notion that President Xi was to be blamed for “souring the Trump-Kim Jung Un” second meeting, the truth is the Trump administration was never prepared to seriously discuss any issue with the North Korean leader. Besides, national security advisor John Bolton, the formidable chairman of Trump’s new “war cabinet” was never agreeable to the idea of US-North Korean diplomacy. As Melvin Goodman, a former CIA analyst who is now a professor of government at the John Hopkins University explained, “the Trump-Kim summit was a failure before starting.” Goodman cites yet another example, “one of President John F. Kennedy’s greatest successes was disciplining the Pentagon in 1963 in order to negotiate the Partial Test Ban Treaty.”  

That diplomacy was not his cup of tea, manifested early on in Trump’s choice of both his secretaries of state, Tillerson and Pompeo, respectively. According to reports, scores of career officials and staffers working in the Harry Truman Building, are feeling relieved at the exit of Mike Pompeo and are hoping Antony Blinken can revitalize American diplomacy. In the words of 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner The New Yorker contributing editor Ronan Farrow, “Pompeo’s chaotic tenure, and that of his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, left deep institutional and cultural scars that continue to impede American diplomatic efforts around the world.”     

Diplomacy, besides being defined as subtle art, we are told is also seen as a practitioner’s art. In sharp contrast to his predecessor, President Biden is described by many as a conscious leader. This perhaps explains why Biden is moving slowly in setting up a summit meeting with Xi. As David Feith, former deputy assistant secretary of state East Asia and Pacific Affairs under Trump recently observed: “It is significant that President Biden has strongly signaled to his own administration and other governments that he wants to prioritize China competition in US policy and US diplomacy.” (Emphasis added).

On the other hand, as mentioned above, Beijing has let it be known “it was pleasantly surprised” on hearing reports of Biden finally “making sense” in his China policy. As Cao Xin, a Beijing-based influential IR expert wrote in his weekly column in ftchinese.com, “Last week, Kurt Campbell, the US Coordinator for the Asia-Pacific made two headlines grabbing statements. First, the United States stands by ‘One China Policy’ and does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country. Second, I expect the two leaders to establish contact with each other soon.” Welcoming the news that President Biden has signaled to his own administration to prioritize a sit-down with president Xi, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for China’s embassy in Washington said, “China and the United States have maintained communication on dialogues and exchanges at all levels.”

In this above context, China’s vice president Wang Qishan has become the highest ranking Chinese official to openly convey that Beijing is willing to go the extra mile to sit down with Washington for a dialogue to manage differences. Wang Qishan was speaking at an event last week in Beijing celebrating the 50th anniversary of the US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger’s historic visit to China. “China-US bilateral ties are at a critical point. The two countries should respect each other’s sovereignty, security, and development interests. The US strategy towards China should avoid misguidance and miscalculation,” Wang said.

The 98-year old Kissinger attended the event through a video call and said, “Conflict between the US and China will divide the whole world.”

Recall here what National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had told reporters a month ago: “[Biden-Xi summit] is now just a question of when and how.” However, it is interesting that the third top member of Biden’s China “team,” secretary of state Antony Blinken is yet to affirm the White House is making efforts to create an opportunity for the Biden-Xi summit. Perhaps unhappy with the top-level US-China diplomatic dialogue in Alaska four months ago, Biden has been compelled to himself take the initiative in establishing some “rules of the road” and predictability in US-China relations. But what is intriguing is, just before the G20 Ministerial was to be held in Italy a couple of weeks ago, a State Department official denied a possible Blinken-Wang Yi meeting, as the Financial Times had reported.

To sum up, with Sullivan and Campbell already in toe and not much known why Blinken has not yet spoken on the stage being set for Biden-Xi summit in Rome, a report in South China Morning Post yesterday confirmed the US President has instructed the State Department to dispatch the deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman to visit China next week. The Hong Kong daily claims the State Department No. 2 will meet the Chinese vice foreign minister Xie Feng, paving the way for the top-level encounter later in the year. Additionally, Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States also confirmed citing sources of a possible second “telephone meeting” between the two leaders following Wendy Sherman’s visit. A section of the US media is claiming, Xi Jinping willing, a final visit to Beijing by Biden’s “Asia Tsar” Jake Sullivan in September-October will set the stage for Biden to turn the world’s attention on Rome not for G20 but for China-US summit diplomacy, or “G2.”

Postscript: News is just filtering in that the US deputy secretary of state’s China visit has been shown a red flag by Beijing. As was reported earlier (mentioned above), Wendy Sherman’s second Asia tour in as many months beginning tomorrow, was being attached special significance in anticipation of the likely Biden-Xi summit at G20 in Rome later in October.  We shall dissect this sudden toughening of diplomatic stance by Beijing, perhaps not seen in many years, in my following analysis.

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America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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The Constitution states only one command twice. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, uses the same eleven words, called the Due Process Clause, to describe a legal obligation of all states. These words have as their central promise an assurance that all levels of government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures to all its citizens.

In this politically divisive climate, the central promise has been broken with little to no assurance that one can trust the American democratic system where some courts have disavowed their responsibility to uphold the Constitution’s meaning of the laws passed by Congress. For instance, the Bill of Rights was passed because of concepts such as freedom of religion, speech, equal treatment, and due process of law were all deemed so fundamental to protect every legal resident in the nation; yet we are now witnessing politically charged judicial appointments eradicating these principles under which all persons and entities are accountable to equally enforce and independently adjudicate, as well as being consistent with international human rights.

On the heels of the Chinese coronavirus, there is an escalating epidemic of unequal justice and character assault where much of the news media is politically aligned with the rulers in turning a blind eye or complicit in the coverup; and in some cases, ravenously endorses the demise of what has essentially now become political dissidents falsely accused, intimidated, and jailed. While many Americans are attempting to scrape by in difficult times, they remain astute to the moral failure of the elites in power as well as the tacit elected opposition’s assiduous silence in whitewashing the legal duplicity. Historical trends over centuries of betraying the peasants eventually succumbs to a reckoning where the privileged corrupt politician and their corporate fascists will be exposed and held accountable in some fashion.  

Americans are confounded by the coronavirus decrees requiring masks to be worn for thee and not for me double standards. The politicians hammer away at enforcing mask mandates on the common folk, yet they do not adhere to their own edicts while attending fine dining with their elite backers. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Californian Governor Gavin Newsome, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot all violated their own mask mandates in public venues while the masked servants waited on them.

President Biden was caught on video walking maskless through a swanky Washington restaurant in violation of the District’s laws on facial coverings, yet regular citizens are subject to civil penalties which result in fines of $1000.00 or revocation of licenses during the COVID-19 emergency. In defending the emperor, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said we should ‘not overly focus on moments in time that don’t reflect overarching policy.’ These double standard by the progressives are a far cry from Americans being punished and ostracized all over the country for not wearing a mask.

Identity politics has resulted in two systems of justice – one where BLM rioting and looting is described by the media as peaceful demonstrations and where assaulting police has no criminal consequences; yet the January 6th actions at the Capital has resulted in the largest round up of protesters ever seen in America. It is estimated that the Federal Government has upwards to 70 rioters/trespassers in solitary confinement and they are only let out in a larger area for one hour at 2 am due to COVID. Some of those being held in detention have been charged with trespassing on restricted grounds, others with assault and obstruction, and some haven’t been charged with anything. There are no bail hearings for these political activists yet BLM and Antifa rioters typically spend one night in the brig and let out the next day to rejoin the frontlines of carnage.  

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has vocally pushed for the January 6th ‘insurrectionists’ to be added to the TSA no-fly list. Civil liberties are being trampled by exploiting insurrection fears with people in attendance no longer permitted to take a flight in their own country and they have not been convicted of a crime. This action by the government had previously only happened to suspect foreign terrorists, and now it is happening to Americans under suspicion. We see no similar actions taken against the militant Antifa anarchists who attacked and torched federal buildings in Portland.

Washington DC has essentially been abusing these inmates in captivity. There have been complaints on the nourishment of their fellow Americans where they are served white bread and a packet of tartar sauce. This is ultimately a violation of the 8th Amendment that prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, nor cruel and unusual punishments, and from inflicting unduly harsh penalties. Some judges are expressing concern at the length of these pretrial incarcerations, however they’ve largely deferred to the Justice Department. Meanwhile anarchists who burn down buildings and shoot projectiles at police officers and federal buildings have charges dismissed. Justice is not equal.   

One female trespasser was shot dead by police during the Capital unrest and there was no outcry or charges against the officer. She was white and a Trump supporter. Federal prosecutors are not seeking criminal charges against the police lieutenant whose single shot killed Ashli Babbit, the 14-year veteran who served four tours with the US Airforce. If the unarmed Babbit committed any crime, it would have been for trespassing, a misdemeanor that should have seen her arrested and not slain. The lieutenant’s life was not at risk nor was he saving the lives of others as he stood with numerous police officers in riot gear and strapped with submachine guns. If a member of BLM was shot dead by police during an unlawful riot, there would have been an immediate racial outcry from political elites and from across the news media for justice followed by looting local retailers and ransacking a police precinct. The action by BLM is considered righteous violence whereas the slain Babbit had it coming to her.  

On a very disturbing and new level of injustice is the threatening actions being taken against parents of schoolchildren by the Department of Justice. Most Americans are familiar with the Patriot Act following 9-11 where the National Security Division conducts counterterrorism operations against foreign adversaries planning suicide bombings and stealing nuclear secrets. Now the Biden Administration, under Attorney General Merrick Garland, has turned the NSD’s crosshairs against everyday Americans conducting their civil duties and free speech as school board meetings.

Garland’s actions followed the National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) claim that American public schools and its education leaders are under immediate threats and intimidation as parents grow frustrated over the divisive neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory being injected into their children’s curricula. This is clearly an injustice to weaponize the DOJ and FBI investigators to intimidate and arrest parents under the same counterespionage to that of Al Qaeda and ISIS. Parents may be angry, but they are certainly not domestic terrorists in taking on the powerfully partisan school unions who somehow believe they are justified to influence civilization by indoctrinating their children.        

Garland’s poster boy for his hideous partisan support of the NSBA is a Virginia father who was arrested at a school board meeting when he attempted to raise the alarm over his young daughter being raped in the school washroom. The father became the symbol of angry parents confronting school officials when he was taken down by several police officers and apprehended for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. He became vocally upset when school officials denied the attack on his daughter, but he was not physically confrontational.

The father said it is scary that our government will weaponize themselves against parents and they’re using my video across the nation to spread fear; while the school officials did not seem to want to listen to him regarding his daughter being assaulted by a boy wearing a skirt who took advantage of transgender rules to access the girl’s washroom. The boy has now been charged with two counts of forcible sodomy, one count of anal sodomy, and one count of forcible fellatio related to the incident at that school. At a later date, the same boy was charged for a similar attack at neighboring school where he allegedly forced a victim into an empty classroom where he held her against her will and inappropriately touched her.  Regardless of the raped daughter, Garland and the NSBA still have their video of the father being wrestled down to support the use of the FBI against parents and send a chilling effect on harmless dissent.  

The Russian collusion narrative against then President Donald Trump may seem dated, however it can never be swept aside or forgotten in what may well have been the biggest political scandal and injustice to a man in American history. The country endured four years investigating Russian collusion into the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 presidential win with senate and congressional impeachment hearings over a Clinton-paid-for fake dossier, the biased Obama hatchet men overseeing the FBI and CIA shirking the law, a frenzied media that never let up on Trump’s guilt, and a special counsel comprised of Clinton partisans that turned over every leaf that eventually found the nearly crucified Trump to be innocent of the false charges. The former president had to withstand an incessant blitzkrieg of injustice through his entire presidency while leading the most powerful country in the world.   

On the hand, there is compelling evidence that President Joe Biden spent years while in government enriching himself through family ties, specifically his son Hunter, to the tune of millions of dollars in foreign money from China, Russia, and Ukraine. The foreign players simply used the unqualified son to leverage access to Biden while satisfying Hunter’s greed and questionable lifestyle. Biden has little to no ability to stand up to China or Russia knowing they are holding damaging transactions over his head. There have been no investigations into Biden’s quid-pro-quo against Ukraine or the transfer of tens of millions of dollars to Biden family members, no impeachments, and the news media buried these stories; including damaging information found on Hunter’s laptop during the 2020 presidential election. Had Trump and his sons engaged in these activities, there would have been a very different level of justice.   

What of this injustice that is making its mark on history? If we take a moment to think through the confusion of the moment and see the morale issue involved, then one may refuse to have this sense of justice distorted to grip power rather than for the good of the country. Those who have sown this unjust wind may eventually reap a whirlwind that provokes reform by convulsion of the people instead of a natural order of business. We must all remember that democracy lies with the people of this land and whether the nation will be stirred to stand for justice and freedom in this hour of distress and go on to finish in a way worthy of its beginning.  

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

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“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion.

However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration as Mr. Raisi toughens his negotiating position and the United States grapples with alternative ways of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme should the parties fail to agree on terms for the revival of the 2015 international agreement.

Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies were telling Mr. Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference, given lack of trust in US and European compliance with any agreement reached.

The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy” as a way of blunting the impact of the US sanctions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump after he walked away from the nuclear agreement in 2018. Some 65 per cent of the responders said they favoured a self-sufficient economy; 54.2 per cent expected the economy to at least improve somewhat in the next three years.

A large number expressed confidence that Mr. Raisi would significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic and root out corruption.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent suggested that Iran’s economic situation would be the same, if not better, if there were no return to the agreement and the government continued to pursue a civil nuclear programme. The figure seemed at odds with the 80 per cent who said Iran’s economic situation would improve if Iran and the United States returned to the agreement and both fulfilled their obligations under the deal.

The divergence may be a function of the fact that the poll, unsurprisingly, indicated that Iranians (64.7 per cent) had little trust in the United States living up to its commitments even though they expected the Biden administration to return to the deal (57.9 per cent). As a result, 73.1 per cent of those surveyed said Iran should not make concessions given that world powers would not live up to commitments they make in return.

At the same time, 63 per cent blamed the troubled state of the economy on domestic mismanagement rather than US sanctions. Only 34.4 per cent believed that the sanctions were the main cause of their economic difficulty. Iranians pointing the finger at the government rather than external forces was also reflected in the 60.5 per cent of those polled blaming Iran’s water shortages on mismanagement and bad policies.

The poll suggested that by emphasising domestic mismanagement, Iranians were going to judge Mr. Raisi on his success or failure in countering the debilitating effect of the sanctions even though 77.5 per cent of those surveyed said that the sanctions had a negative or somewhat negative impact on the economy.

Implicitly, Iranians were holding former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responsible for the mismanagement given that Mr. Raisi only took office in August. Rated very favourable by 61.2 per cent of Iranians surveyed in 2015, Mr. Rouhani’s favorability dropped to 4.6 per cent in the most recent poll. By contrast, the favourable views of Mr. Raisi soared from 38.3 per cent in 2014 to 77 per cent last month. IranPoll and the Center have been conducting annual of surveys since 2014.

Mr. Raisi may have taken pleasure from that but more importantly, the poll implicitly suggested that he does not have much time to produce results before his significant public support starts to wane.

Of those polled, 66.7 per cent expected Mr. Raisi to improve Iran’s international standing, 55.7 per cent said he would be in a better position to negotiate with world powers, and 45.2 per cent predicted that he would enhance Iran’s security. Those expectations may have been to some degree validated in the public’s mind by last month’s acceptance of Iran’s application for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups China, Russia, India, Pakistan and several Central Asian states.

The survey results seemed to suggest that ordinary Iranians were framing their message to the United States differently from the assessment of prominent scholars and analysts. The divergence may well be one primarily of timing but nonetheless has implications for policymaking in Washington. The message of the respondents to the poll was one of immediate impact while analysts and scholars appear to be looking at the middle term.

Without referring to the poll, Vienna-based economist and strategic consultant Bijan Khajehpour argued this week, seemingly contrary to the poll, that “mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic have both contributed to Iran’s poor economic performance in recent years, but it remains that US sanctions…will be the key factor in determining Iran’s future prospects.”

Mr. Khajehpour went on to say that “high inflation, capital flight and the erosion of household purchasing power alongside mismanagement of resources and the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure have the potential to spark more protests and further undermine the already faltering legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the public.”

No doubt, the jury is out on how Iranians respond if and when Mr. Raisi fails to live up to their expectations. If the past is any indication, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets at often substantial risk to liberty and life to make their discontent with government performance evident as they did with the low turnout in this year’s election that brought Mr. Raisi to power.

The risk of renewed protests was reflected in the fact that responses to various questions regarding the electoral system, the limited number of presidential candidates (because many were barred from running), and the public health system showed that it was often a slim majority at best that expressed confidence in the system.

Add to that the fact that 68 per cent of respondents to the poll said that the objectives of past protests had been a demand that officials pay greater attention to people’s problems.

Yet, at the same time, they were telling the United States that its efforts to generate pressure on Iranian leaders to moderate their nuclear and regional policies by imposing harsh sanctions had for now backfired. Iranians were backing a tougher negotiating position by the Raisi government.

Ultimately that could be a double-edged sword for Mr. Raisi. He has to prove that he can be tough on the United States and simultaneously improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. Failure to do so could have in Mr. Khajehpour’s words “unpredictable consequences.”

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