Will Biden’s China policy change in 2022?

Will Biden’s China policy change in 2022?

Will Biden’s China policy change in 2022?
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Beijing – The timeline of US-China engagements in 2021, from the high-level meeting in Alaska in March to the virtual summit in Beijing and Washington in December, reflect the ups and downs of the bilateral relationship in the past year.

Phrases such as “dominance around the Pacific”, “strength in commerce”, “high-tech supremacy”, “human rights and freedoms” and “a voice in world leadership” are the primary themes that define China-US relations.

Will US President Joe Biden’s China policy in 2021 continue its trajectory in 2022? A close reading of the media coverage of Biden’s international affair policy, particularly his views on China, may provide an answer.

Biden has abandoned the Donald Trump administration’s strategy to compete with China only through unilateral or bilateral actions with the aim of returning the United States to its former prominence through multilateral ties and alliances. He held the “Summit for Democracy” so his administration could work with other “democratic” governments to provide an alternative to China. The administration also expanded the scope of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, with two summits that promoted “a vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, and launched the AUKUS security pact with Australia and the United Kingdom to coordinate military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region.

Biden is also pushing for a broad “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” that would see the US’ role in Asia driven by a consensus on digital trade, supply chain security, sustainability and workers’ rights. In the last two months of 2021, many of the administration’s acts indicate a tougher economic policy targeting China.

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US Vice-President Kamala Harris’ most important action relating to China in 2021 was a diplomatic trip to Southeast Asia from Aug 20 to 26, during which she delivered a sharp rebuke to China for its “incursions” into the South China Sea, warning that the US will support its allies in the region against Beijing’s advances.

Nearly all of Harris’ past legislative co-sponsorships and votes on issues such as so-called human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as well as her opposition to allowing Chinese companies like Huawei to conduct business in the US indicate she is likely to continue her tirade on those issues.

On the diplomacy and foreign policy front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has shown a clear willingness to ruffle China’s feathers. On Nov 17, Blinken included China on a list that identifies “governments and non-state actors, who, because of their religious freedom violations, merit designation under the International Religious Freedom Act”.

Blinken is busy meeting with his counterparts since December, issuing a joint statement with the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK to express concerns over the erosion of democratic elements in the Hong Kong SAR’s electoral system, delivering a speech in Jakarta criticising Beijing for moves that “threaten” the stability of sea trade through the South China Sea.

On the trade and finance front, US Secretary of Treasury Janet Yellen is seen as a moderate voice and a supporter of open trade and rules-based multilateralism. But on Dec 10, the US Department of Treasury imposed sanctions and investment restrictions on a number of Chinese entities for alleged human rights abuses.

As for US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, she seems entirely comfortable in aggressively confronting China when needed. On Oct 4, following a month-long review of US trade policy toward China, Tai unveiled the “initial steps” that the administration plans to take, including a top-level meeting with China to discuss the enforcement of the “Phase One trade deal” and broader US concerns, as well as plans to reinstate the exclusion process of some tariffs against Chinese imports. Two months later, she applauded the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.

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In November, the US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo added eight China-based technology entities to the Entity List “to prevent US emerging technologies from being used for the PRC’s quantum computing efforts that support military applications”. A month later, the US added 37 more entities to its Entity List to “deter misuse of biotechnology” and other technologies “for military applications and human rights abuses”. And in December, Raimondo said the Department of Commerce will co-lead the Biden administration’s initiative to build an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

And on Friday the House of Representatives passed a bill aimed at boosting US competitiveness with China, while the Senate passed its version last June.

On the defence and security front, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin defined China as “the No.1 pacing challenge” to the US. Following annual security talks with his Republic of Korea counterpart, Austin said China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region”.

When it comes to climate change, however, John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, sees the US working with China as a necessary step toward addressing the climate challenge. Near the end of the 2021, at the UN Climate Change Conference, Kerry and China’s Special Envoy on Climate Change Xie Zhenhua released the “US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s”.

And the US moves, including the proposal to rename the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” as the “Taiwan Representative Office in the United States”, indicate Sino-US relations will likely continue its trajectory of intensifying differences and competition in 2022.

However, despite the irreconcilable differences between the two sides, neither poses an existential threat to the other, which should make compromise easier if both countries can summon a bold, risk-taking leadership approach. “Managing irreconcilability” rather than managing competition should be a first-order priority for both sides, with the establishment of active communication mechanisms for the purpose.

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Overall, positive-sum cooperation in trade, technology and climate change can dim the harsher edges of US-China strategic competition as well as provide solutions to global problems which are not resolvable without meaningful Sino-US collaboration.

Courtesy: China Daily

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