WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s Chinese policy, still in the works, has so far been a delicate balancing act.
He 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 confrontational policies – and the Trump administration’s overall view that Beijing is a challenge to take up.
Biden described his policies as “extreme competition” with China – an approach that involves persuading Congress to spend billions of dollars in new spending and unite America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific region on a strategy despite their often divergent interests.
A senior administration official said that when Biden announces a package of spending proposals on Wednesday in a joint address to Congress, he will “talk about the investments our economy needs to compete with China,” using the same message as there employment plan that has not yet been adopted.
While the pairing of Chinese and domestic politics is nothing new – recent presidents have done the same – Biden has raised the stakes by essentially claiming that the survival of the United States as a democracy depends on how competition with China is unfolding.
Yet some fundamental elements of Biden’s policy, including trade and military strategy, remain undefined. And he has kept Trump’s controversial tariffs on Chinese goods in place for now. Several Chinese experts have said that overall, much of Biden’s policy, while different from that of the Trump administration, remains vague.
“There is a lot of lack of clarity, even among people who follow these things very closely,” said Susan Thornton, senior researcher at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale University, who said the team from Biden was seen as “more unified and definitely more disciplined.”
Jude Blanchette, an expert on China at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, also described Biden’s Chinese policy as evolving as officials “sort through the legacy of the Trump administration and decide what will be rejected “.
“One of the defining characteristics of the Trump administration was not the politics per se, which was aggressive of course, but the circus and the soap opera, Trump zigzagging and zagging. And you had different elements of the administration coming together. were openly fighting and quarreling, “Blanchette mentioned. The Biden administration has been more disciplined, implemented an internal political process, and toned down rhetoric towards China – although “we haven’t seen Biden’s Chinese strategy yet,” he said.
The administration is conducting an internal review of U.S. troop deployments around the world. Some military commanders and intelligence officials are pushing to transfer more troops and resources to the Pacific to help counter China’s massive weapons build-up, but it remains 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 passed on Chinese goods is still ongoing, senior administration officials have said.
Yet administration officials have said they do not expect any fundamental change in Biden’s policy as described so far, even after the completion of the military and trade reviews. More likely, they said, Biden could just make tactical adjustments.
An initiative the administration is actively discussing is a possible alternative to the defunct trade pact between the United States and 11 Asia-Pacific countries, excluding China, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A second senior administration official said a range of options were being considered but that Biden planned to come up with a proposal.
The administration has yet to take what experts see as key steps to counter China’s trade practices and strike new trade deals with other countries. It has, for example, not submitted a candidate for a Commerce Department position that helps decide which technologies are exported to China and which are blocked, nor has it asked Congress to renew the Trade Promotion Authority. executive trade, which allows a president to negotiate. a trade deal and submit it to Congress for an upward or downward vote on a scheduled timeframe. It expires in July.
Administration officials said that Biden’s program framework for China rests on three elements: building domestic strength by bringing the coronavirus pandemic under control and advancing large spending proposals, coordinating more closely with governments. allies and confronting China on points of disagreement.
Unlike other major foreign policy challenges on his plate, Biden approaches China’s strategy with the momentum of Congress, where there is bipartisan support for an aggressive approach. Multiple Republican and Democrat-backed measures are gaining traction, including a bill from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., Which includes $ 100 billion dollars to advance technology in the United States to keep pace. with China.
The White House has expressed its initial support for the bill, and administration officials say such bipartisanship is the type of united message Biden hopes to send to China.
Other bills are a mix of measures to fund projects in the United States and blunt what the United States sees as China’s aggressive actions on trade, technology, human rights and military companies.
Some lawmakers want Biden to be more aggressive.
“So far, President Biden’s approach to confronting the Chinese Communist Party has been mixed,” Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, senior Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an email.
Critics say Biden’s action on China does not set the United States on a course to counter a country the administration has described as the only one in the world that can use its economic, military and technological might to challenge the international stability.
“I don’t think there is much Chinese politics yet,” said one of Trump’s national security advisers John Bolton, who sharply criticized Trump’s foreign policy decisions, including those concerning China.
Biden’s focus has been on bringing American allies into Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. One of the first steps was to reach cost-sharing agreements to base US troops in Japan and South Korea, which had become a source of friction under the Trump administration. Trump had pushed both countries to significantly increase their contributions.
Biden also hosted a virtual meeting with leaders from Australia, India and Japan. Yet while courting allies is one of the Trump administration’s most notable changes, it is difficult to propose a united front on China.
“The American allies have generally responded very positively to these efforts,” said Patricia Kim, senior policy analyst for the China program at the United States Peace Institute. “But that said, there is also mistrust in some capitals as to how far we might ask them to go out to call China on human rights issues or what role we might expect. what they play in a possible contingency in Taiwan “.
The interests of the United States and its allies are not always aligned, given the allies’ economic and trade interdependence with Beijing.
One of the most worrying issues is China’s aggression against Taiwan. Officials hope to avoid the confrontation, although Biden has not drawn a clear red line on how the United States would react if Beijing acts – an approach that has drawn mixed reviews.
The administration has not yet publicly labeled China, the alleged culprit, as responsible for pirating Microsoft software. One official said the administration weighed the process and substantive considerations that go into such a designation, but reiterated what the White House has said publicly: that the United States will eventually name the entity behind the hack.
The early avoidance of confrontation is also apparent in Biden’s treatment of China’s handling of the coronavirus. Beijing’s lack of transparency about the origins and initial spread of the virus was not a major public concern for Biden, who told reporters he never raised the issue during his first call of about two hours with Chinese President Xi Jinping, which administration officials said was aimed at defining the parameters of the relationship.
The administration has sought to test its self-proclaimed strategy of confrontation with China on the differences while trying to work with Beijing when the two countries may have common interests, such as climate change and a nuclear deal with Iran.
Still, the high-level meeting between U.S. and Chinese secretaries of state and national security advisers in Alaska laid bare the challenges facing the administration.
Ahead of the meeting, the United States adopted sanctions against China for its crackdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China’s use of cyberattacks against the United States, its treatment of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and its general “economic coercion”.
Tensions then spilled over to the public when Chinese officials fought off criticism with a lecture on America’s human rights record, specifically referring to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Administration officials have said no further high-level meetings are scheduled – and while they are ready to hear from Beijing what it sees as the next steps, they are in no rush, they said. they stated.