Skip to content
The New Appeasers
Go to my account

The New Appeasers

Biden’s upcoming summit with Xi Jinping risks weakening America even further.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen looks on as President Joe Biden speaks during a session of the G20 Leaders' Summit at the Bharat Mandapam in New Delhi on September 9, 2023. (Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images)

“I’ve got it.” 

Those were British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s words as he stepped off the plane at Croydon airport after his meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich in September 1938. What he had was a piece of paper signed by Hitler saying that with the dismembering of Czechoslovakia, Germany had no more territorial ambitions in Europe. That was the signed pledge Chamberlain said represented “peace for our time.”

Chamberlain was wrong, tragically wrong. Instead of bringing peace, their summit paved the way for Hitler’s next round of aggression and the start of World War II.

The upcoming summit in San Francisco between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, scheduled for Wednesday, won’t result in any outcome as dramatic. But this summit between the strongest Chinese premier since Mao and the weakest American president since James Buchanan, may be nearly as disastrous in terms of pushing the U.S.-China relationship further down the wrong track, one where American weakness and appeasement makes war more, not less, likely. 

The Pax Americana established after World War II is coming apart: in Europe, in the Middle East, in East Asia and in the Taiwan Strait, and in Latin America, as our collapsing southern border demonstrates. The Biden team has no plan to restore American leadership and security in the face of an increasingly aggressive China which has raised tensions with Taiwan, clashed with neighbors like the Philippines in the South China Sea, and trespassed on American territory with spy balloons, secret police outposts, and tens of thousands of military-age Chinese males swarming over our border. 

Instead, it has chosen the appeasement path Britain and France followed on the eve of World War II, hoping that giving away as much as possible will sate the dictator’s appetite instead of feeding it for more. 

The  administration’s arch-appeaser, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (who can forget her kowtowing visit to Beijing this past July?) and her Chinese counterpart met for two days of discussions beforehand.  Yellen still suffers from the delusion we are still in “competition” with China, like rival cross-town high school football teams.  She told the media on Friday her goal is a “healthy economic relationship” with the communist dictatorship; any criticisms of China from a national security point of view will be “narrowly scoped.”  

So when Biden gets there, don’t expect any tough talk about China’s espionage activities or its record as a serial cyber thief, let alone about fentanyl or COVID, the twin plagues that have killed 1.5 million Americans and both of which we owe to China. 

Biden and his team make the same mistake about Xi that Chamberlain and his generation of appeasers made about Hitler. Both assume that a disagreement between nations is always the result of some misunderstanding, or a failure to find some common ground on which a compromise solution could be built—like on climate change. 

It’s not. With China we confront a political system that is the deliberate antithesis of American exceptionalism and Western ideas about freedom. We are locked in a collision course with Beijing, in which only American strength and confidence can keep it from resulting in catastrophe. 

But let’s give the original appeasers some credit. They may have been tragically misguided, but they really did believe Germany’s complaints about the Versailles treaty were morally justified, and that revising the treaty in Germany’s favor would make a more just and peaceful world. 

Biden’s appeasement strategy is a notch down the ethical scale. It rests not on noble aspirations, however misguided, but on the hope that serial concessions to Beijing can put off having to confront our decline as an economic and military power. This is appeasement, not to achieve “peace for our time” but peace until the 2024 election.

It comes at a time when the bigger struggle between our two systems, America versus Communist China, and the one with the biggest stakes of all, is just getting started. That’s the struggle for the future of the global South—Latin America, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia. China has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure projects and other direct foreign investment into these countries, as part of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategy. 

China’s exports to the global South have tripled since 2018,  and Chinese trade with Southeast Asia alone is roughly double that between China and the U.S. As a result, today billions of people—the future of humanity—are being sucked into Beijing’s economic orbit, while our leaders dither about whether gas stoves contribute to climate change.  

The Biden administration doesn’t know how to deal with Chinese spy balloons, let alone the implications of BRI for the future of freedom. Instead, it wants to treat China as if it were a constituent, one that can be pacified by cutting a deal here and passing some legislation there, especially if the deal is greased with campaign contributions or even cash.

Bloomberg reports that Chinese equities are rising on the eve of this summit. 

Those companies know it will be good news for Beijing, and bad for America—and even worse news for the billions of people in the global South who will become the underpaid coolies in China’s vast colonial empire.

Arthur Herman is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. He is the author of Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II and The Viking Heart: How Scandinavians Conquered the World