WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s China policy, which is still in the works, has been a difficult balancing act so far.
He has adopted a more measured public tone than his predecessor on some issues, but even sharper on others, while preserving some of President Donald Trump’s policies of confrontation – and the overarching view of the Trump administration that Beijing is a challenge to be challenged has to face.
Biden described his policies as “extreme competition” with China – an approach that depends on convincing Congress to spend trillions of dollars in new spending and to strategize America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region despite their often divergent interests.
A senior administration official said that when Biden announced a spending proposal package in a joint address to Congress on Wednesday, he would “speak about the investment our economy needs to compete with China,” using the same message he received for his endeavors still has to existing job plan.
While the pairing of China and domestic politics isn’t new – recent presidents have done the same – Biden has upped the ante, essentially arguing that the US’s survival as a democracy depends on how it competes with China developed.
However, some key areas of Biden’s policies, including trade and military strategy, remain undefined. And he kept Trump’s controversial tariffs on Chinese goods for the time being. Several Chinese experts said that overall, much of Biden’s policies, although different in tone from those of the Trump administration, remain vague.
“There’s a great lack of clarity, even among people who watch these things very closely,” said Susan Thornton, senior fellow at Yale University’s Paul Tsai China Center, and said the Biden team was “more unified and definitely more disciplined.” . “
Jude Blanchette, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, also described Biden’s China policy as in flux, while officials “sort the legacy of the Trump administration and decide what to dump.”
“One of the defining characteristics of the Trump administration was not the politics per se, which were of course aggressive, but the circus and soap operas, Trump zigzagged and jagged. And you had various elements of the government that fought openly and quarreled,” said Blanchette said. The Biden government has been more disciplined, has conducted an internal political process and has weakened rhetoric against China – even if “we haven’t seen Biden’s China strategy,” he said.
The government is conducting an internal review of US troop deployments around the world. Some military commanders and intelligence officials are pushing for more troops and resources to be relocated to the Pacific to counter China’s massive arms buildup, but it is still unclear how far Biden will be willing to go.
Defense officials expect the Pentagon’s China Task Force to complete its efforts as early as next month. And a separate internal review of the controversial tariffs Trump has imposed on Chinese goods is still ongoing, senior administrative officials said.
However, administrative officials said they do not expect any fundamental change in Biden’s policy outlined so far, even after the military and trade reviews are complete. More likely, they said, Biden could just make tactical adjustments.
An initiative that the government is actively discussing is a possible alternative to the no longer existing trade pact between the US and eleven countries in the Asia-Pacific region with the exception of China, the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership. A second senior administration official said a number of options were being considered but Biden intended to come up with a proposal.
The government has yet to take what experts see as key steps to counter China’s trade practices and sign new trade deals with other countries. For example, it has not submitted a candidate for a position in the Department of Commerce to help decide which technologies will be exported to China and which will be blocked, nor has it asked Congress to renew the executive trade promotion agency that allows a president to negotiate Trade agreement and submit it to Congress for a vote on a planned timetable. It expires in July.
Government officials said the framework for Biden’s China agenda is based on three elements: strengthening domestic strength by bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control and pushing large spending proposals, coordinating more closely with allies, and bringing China into disagreement.
Unlike other major foreign policy challenges, with the momentum of Congress, Biden comes to the China Strategy, where there is bipartisan support for an aggressive approach. Several Republican and Democrat-backed actions are gaining traction, including a $ 100 billion bill by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Senator Todd Young, R-Ind., That includes $ 100 billion to bring technology to the US move forward to keep up with China.
The White House has expressed its initial support for the bill, and government officials say such bipartisanism is the kind of unity message Biden wants to send to China.
Other bills are a mix of measures to fund projects in the US and to blunt what the US sees as aggressive action by China on trade, technology, human rights and military endeavors.
Some lawmakers want Biden to be more aggressive.
“So far, President Biden’s approach to confrontation with the Chinese Communist Party has been inconsistent,” senior Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, the senior Republican on the foreign affairs committee, said in an email.
Critics say Biden’s moves against China did not set the US on track to counter a country the government has identified as the only one in the world that could use its economic, military and technological might to challenge international stability put.
“I don’t think there is much of a policy on China yet,” said one of Trump’s national security advisers, John Bolton, who has sharply criticized Trump’s foreign policy decisions, including those on China.
Biden’s focus was on bringing together US allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. One of the first steps was to reach cost-sharing agreements to support US forces in Japan and South Korea, which had become points of friction during the Trump administration. Trump had pushed both countries for large premium increases.
Biden also held a virtual meeting with the leaders of Australia, India and Japan. While soliciting allies is one of the most notable changes to the Trump administration, it is difficult to propose a unified front against China.
“The US allies have generally responded very positively to these efforts,” said Patricia Kim, senior policy analyst for the China program at the US Peace Institute. “However, there are also concerns in some capitals about the extent to which they will be asked to call China on human rights issues or what role they will play in a potential Taiwanese emergency.”
The interests of the US and its allies do not always coincide, given the allies’ economic and trade interdependence with Beijing.
One of the most worrying topics is China’s aggression against Taiwan. Officials hope to avoid a confrontation, although Biden did not draw a clear red line on how the US would react if Beijing took a step – an approach that has generated mixed reviews.
In particular, the government of China has not yet publicly identified the alleged culprit as responsible for the Microsoft software hack. One official said the government is weighing the process and key considerations that go into such a designation, but reiterating what the White House has publicly said: that the US will ultimately name the entity behind the hack.
The early evasion of the confrontation is also evident in Biden’s treatment of China’s handling of the coronavirus. Beijing’s lack of transparency about how the virus came about and how it was initially spread was not a major public issue for Biden. He told reporters that he never brought up the issue in his first two-hour phone call to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the government official, saying the intention was to adjust the parameters of the relationship.
The government has tried to test its self-described strategy of confronting China over differences while trying to work with Beijing when the two countries have common interests, such as climate change and a nuclear deal with Iran.
The high-level meeting between the US and Chinese secretaries of state and national security advisers in Alaska exposed the challenges facing the administration.
Before the meeting, the US adopted sanctions against China for its crackdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong. And Foreign Minister Antony Blinken criticized China’s use of cyberattacks against the US, its treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and its general “economic coercion”.
The tensions then became publicly apparent when Chinese officials struck back at the criticism with a lecture on the American human rights record, specifically relating to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Administration officials said high-level meetings are no longer planned – and while they are ready to hear from Beijing about the next steps, they are in no rush, they said.