As Republicans prepare for their first primary debate, PolitiFact’s Amy Sherman came running to the defense of President Biden and his China policy on Tuesday, rating former Vice President Mike Pence “mostly false” for claiming Biden sent Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to “kowtow” before Beijing after the spy balloon incident.
The exact quote Sherman cited is Pence telling radio host Erick Erickson, “I think it is incomprehensible after China sent a balloon over strategic sites in the United States, and their ships cutting off our ships in the South China Sea, and their aircraft cutting off our aircraft in the Asian Pacific that President Biden literally sent the secretary of state hat in hand to go kowtow and ask for a meeting.”
Sherman also wrote, “Pence’s comments could be interpreted to mean that Biden dispatched Secretary of State Antony Blinken to arrange a meeting with China immediately after the balloon was spotted in U.S. airspace. That’s not what happened.”
The word “could” is irrelevant for this fact-check. The truth is Blinken literally did go to China, he did not metaphorically go to China or cancel his prescheduled trip. Furthermore, there were plenty of media reports at the time, as well as comments from Biden himself, that suggested the Administration was worried the balloon episode would hurt its ability to mend fences with Beijing.
Nevertheless, Sherman claimed, “A senior State Department official told reporters Feb. 3 that after consulting with different U.S. government agencies and Congress, the department decided 'that the conditions are not right at this moment' for Blinken to go to China.”
None of this has anything to do with what Pence said. The State Department could have cancelled Blinken's trip, but the meeting still happened, just at a later date, as Sherman acknowledged, “Pence’s campaign said he was referring to Blinken’s meeting with Chinese officials in June.”
Sherman then proceeded to give Blinken’s justification for the meeting—mainly raising concerns about drug trafficking and ensuring China does not support Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine— and the declaration that, “Whether it was in the U.S,’ best interest to cancel the meeting in February and reschedule for June is a matter of opinion and politics, said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, a Washington D.C.-based foreign affairs think tank.”
However, Sherman also cited China and Asia-Pacific Studies Prof. Jessica Chen Weiss, who gave a more definitive answer, “The postponement of Blinken's visit was an unfortunate reflection of domestic political pressure, not our best interests.”
Weiss clearly agrees with Biden, but if Sherman wanted to, she could have found other experts who agreed with Pence. Ultimately, Sun is correct, this is a wonky policy question about whether Russia and China should be treated as a single threat or treated as separate through some sort of wedge strategy. Pence and Biden fall on different sides of the question and it is not PolitiFact’s job to rate Pence’s opinion that the former is naïve or signals weakness as “mostly-false.”