High-level U.S. officials have made multiple trips to China over the summer despite continued reports of Chinese spying in the United States.
"Current policy is a mash-up of engagement and competition," Brent Sadler a senior research fellow for naval warfare and advanced technology at the Heritage Foundation, told Fox News Digital. "The result is a confusing set of signals sent to Beijing at best assumed to be U.S. confusion but at worst weakness and indecisiveness."
Sadler's comments come as the U.S. has continued to attempt to engage China with diplomacy, with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo meeting with Chinese officials in Beijing and Shanghai earlier this month. Raimondo was the fourth high-level official to visit China over the summer, following trips by special envoy for climate John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The visits come despite increased tensions with China, including multiple reports of the country spying in the United States. Earlier this year, a high-altitude balloon originating in China flew across North America and directly over the contiguous U.S. and was allowed to pass over large portions of the country before being shot down off the coast of South Carolina. The incident was condemned by the U.S., with Blinken canceling a planned trip to China at the time because of the balloon.
In another case earlier this month, the FBI released a report noting that it had tracked more than 100 incidents of Chinese nationals attempting to breach U.S. military installations while posing as tourists.
"The greatest long-term counterintelligence threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property is from China," an FBI spokesperson told Fox News Digital in response to the report. "The Chinese government is engaged in a broad, diverse campaign of theft and malign influence without regard to laws or international norms that the FBI will not tolerate."
Raimondo herself saw her email breached by Chinese hackers prior to her trip to the country.
"They did hack me, which was unappreciated, to say the least. I brought it up clearly, put it right on the table," she said, according to a report in NBC News. "Didn’t pull any punches."
Yet Raimondo also argued that lines of communication need to remain open between the U.S. and China, arguing that cutting off talks could lead to miscommunications and an even further escalation of tensions.
"We are in a fierce competition with China at every level, and anyone who tells you differently is naive," Raimondo said. "All of that being said, we need to manage this competition. Conflict is in no one’s interest."
President Biden has also seemingly contributed to the confusion, bashing Chinese leadership shortly after Blinken's trip to the country was hailed a success, according to a report from NPR.
"China has real economic difficulties. And the reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two boxcars full of spy equipment in it, is he didn't know it was there," Biden said in June. "That's what's a great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn't know what happened. That wasn't supposed to be going where it was. It was blown off course up through Alaska and then down through the United States. And he didn't know about it."
The comments drew the immediate ire of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, with spokesperson Mao Ning accusing Biden of violating "diplomatic protocol."
"[President Biden's remarks] go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China's political dignity... It is a blatant political provocation," the spokesperson said, according to NPR.
Nevertheless, Blinken met with China's Vice President Han Zheng last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where according to a State Department spokesperson the two, "had a candid and constructive discussion, building on recent high-level engagements between the two countries to maintain open lines of communication and responsibly manage the U.S.-China relationship."
Blinken is also expected to host China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi before the end of the year while Biden is in talks to meet with President Xi in the U.S. at some point in the fall, according to a report from Reuters.
"As the president has said, he hopes to meet with President Xi sometime later this fall," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters earlier this month. "We believe there is no substitute for one-on-one conversations at the leader level, so we will continue to work toward the possibility of that."
According to Sadler, the diplomatic confusion is only compounded by a view that the U.S. military is not currently strong enough to fully confront a threat from China.
"Add to this the consensus in Congress that our defenses are too weak and must be rebuilt, this likely could lead the Chinese to view efforts at engagement and cooperation as subterfuge. With this in mind, better relations through dialogue alone is unlikely, and worse if U.S. engagement with China handled poorly and not backed by visible military presence which China could conclude as an opening for more aggressive actions," Sadler told Fox News Digital.
Sadler argued that a lot of the mixed signals stem from American cooperation with China economically, noting current negotiations over the construction of an electronic vehicle battery factory. But Sadler also pointed out that any Chinese company is going to be connected to the Communist Party, arguing political leaders will have to "acknowledge the CCP is not going to be a free and open market or society."
When it comes to combating Chinese spying, Sadler said it would be important to "educate the public" about the severity of the threat and "sensitize universities that sometimes have Chinese Communist Party members attending." Sadler also said it was important for the U.S. to give local and state police agencies the tools they need to be able to identify "illicit CCP activities."
"There also needs to be better efforts to safeguard our Chinese American citizens and those fleeing the CCP from its reach even here at home," Sadler said. "Case in point the numerous illegal overseas Chinese police stations used to intimidate people here in the United States."
The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a Fox News request for comment.