n a recent talk with the Lowy Institute, Jake Sullivan argued for a détente with China. Arguing that America recognizes that China is going to be a factor in the international system for the foreseeable future, Sullivan said that there should be effective and healthy competition with China. “We are not seeking a new Cold War, we’re not looking for conflict, what we’re looking for is effective competition with guardrails and risk-reduction measures in place to ensure that things don’t veer off into conflict. And also with the capacity to work together with China, where it’s in the common interests of our countries and in the interests of the world to do so,” Sullivan argued, adding that China is not going anywhere, but nor is the United States. A coexistence is, therefore, necessary, and rightly so.
What was not mentioned in that speech and subsequent conversation even once was the word “Taiwan.” And incidentally, the same day there were news reports about U.S. congressmen visiting the island nation. What was even more surprising was that a day from the talk, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States and allies will “take action” if Taiwan was invaded or any alteration of the status quo was done by force. “Blinken did not say what sort of action he was referring to,” the Reuters report noted, claiming immediately after that “Those remarks appeared to depart from a long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity,” not making clear how the United States would respond.” On the contrary, one must add, that everything in the last few days made it feel that the United States is not just ambiguous about China’s border question but is fundamentally rudderless. Ambiguity here is not a strategy, but a byproduct of cluelessness.
This is not surprising. China has been the topic of debate everywhere I went in the last few months and is the topic that divides not just the foreign policy community overall, but also the realists in particular.