U.S. – China relations

Written by  //  April 14, 2021  //  China, Foreign Policy, U.S.  //  No comments

For Biden, China Rivalry Adds Urgency To Infrastructure Push
(NPR) As President Biden and his administration sell a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to Americans, one theme keeps coming up alongside dilapidated bridges, contaminated water pipes and uneven Internet access: competition with China.
When Biden announced the proposal in Pittsburgh, he made sure to argue the measure would put the U.S. “in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.”
Biden wants the U.S. to spend more money on its physical infrastructure, as well as research and development in emerging technologies, because that’s what China is doing.

31 March
Bloomberg Politics newsletter: When Joe Biden vowed that China wouldn’t displace the U.S. as the most powerful nation on Earth under his watch, it was probably a safe bet.
Even if he runs again in 2024 and and wins another four-year term, the president could leave office just as China overtakes America as the world’s No. 1 economy.
China’s V-shaped recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has seen it increase its share of global output at the quickest pace this century, possibly surpassing the U.S. in economic terms by 2028 or even two years before that, some economists say.
Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, Beijing has put forward plans to double the size of the economy by 2035 and wants to become the global leader in everything from biotechnology to green energy and artificial intelligence.
The U.S. isn’t taking this lying down. Biden will today unveil a $2.25 trillion proposal to fund transportation, manufacturing, renewable energy and other efforts to combat climate change.
At the same time, he’s tightened measures imposed under Donald Trump to limit China’s access to key technologies such as semiconductors.
In Europe, the promise of vaccine deliveries picking up in the second quarter means that it has a chance to turn the corner and project itself as a third global economic force. But…Europe can’t avoid the great power rivalry between the U.S. and China.
As most of the world struggles to emerge from the pandemic, the competition for supremacy is shifting into high gear. — Karl Maier

22 March
Biden admin sanctions Chinese officials for abuses against Uyghurs
(NBC) The Biden administration Monday announced sanctions against two Chinese government officials over continued human rights abuses against the country’s minority Uyghur population.
The Department of the Treasury sanctions focus on Wang Junzheng, the secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.
The sanctions were being imposed in coordination with similar moves by the European Union, the United Kingdom and Canada, the department said.

15-19 March
‘Tough and direct’: U.S. says as talks with China wrap up in Alaska
By Humeyra Pamuk Reuters
(Global news) U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, standing beside [National security adviser Jake] Sullivan, said he was not surprised that the United States got a “defensive response” from China after it raised its concerns over Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, as well as over cyberattacks and pressure on Taiwan.
But Blinken said the two sides also had intersecting interests on Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, and climate change.
… The rebukes played out in front of cameras, but a senior U.S. administration official told reporters that as soon as media had left the room, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and held substantive and direct talks.
The Biden administration gets a taste of China’s ‘wolf warrior’ diplomacy
(WaPo) After Blinken mentioned some of the issues Washington had with Beijing, including “cyberattacks on the United States” and “economic coercion toward our allies,” Yang told him that the United States “can’t blame this problem on somebody else” — turning brief opening remarks into a 16-minute tirade.
For a high-level diplomatic meeting, it was remarkably undiplomatic, shattering any illusions of a reset in U.S.-China relations after the more aggressive U.S. policy during the Trump administration. Indeed, China’s diplomats appeared more forceful than they had been in any public meeting during President Trump’s term, leading to worry on both sides about the state of the relationship.
In First Talks, Dueling Accusations Set Testy Tone for U.S.-China Diplomacy
(NYT) U.S. officials said the two days of discussions would continue, but accused the Chinese delegation of violating the format for meetings that had sought to find common ground between the superpowers.
As Biden and Xi Begin a Careful Dance, a New American Policy Takes Shape
the emerging strategy more directly repudiates the prevailing view of the last quarter century that deep economic interdependence could be counted on to temper fundamental conflicts on issues like China’s military buildup, its territorial ambitions and human rights.
It focuses anew on competing more aggressively with Beijing on technologies vital to long-term economic and military power, after concluding that President Donald J. Trump’s approach — a mix of expensive tariffs, efforts to ban Huawei and TikTok, and accusations about sending the “China virus” to American shores — had failed to change President Xi Jinping’s course.

Bloomberg: When senior Biden administration officials meet this week with their counterparts from China for the first time, they may need a large whiteboard to keep track of the complexities involved.
There are at least half a dozen separate, and competing, factors that will play into the talks.
A big conflicting point, for example, is President Joe Biden’s push for renewable power generation. That collides with his anger over alleged Chinese human-rights abuses in Xinjiang, which happens to be a major supplier of a key component in solar panels.
There are economic imperatives for cooperation (they need each other as markets) but also arguments against cooperation (protecting their own industries, building self-sufficiency in supply chains).
There are political reasons to cooperate, because China has become too big to shut out. There are reasons not to: If nations don’t collectively push back against Beijing’s behavior, there’s no chance to influence its actions.
There are particular imperatives for China, which sees itself as unfairly picked on, while President Xi Jinping needs to sound firm before a big leadership meeting next year. And Biden equally must demonstrate to Congress and American voters he’s tough — and smart — on China.
In Tokyo, Blinken And Austin Work To Revive Asian Alliance To Counter China
(NPR) In Tokyo on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin put U.S. alliances, and cooperation with allies to counter China’s challenges to U.S. primacy, at the center of the Biden administration’s foreign policy in its first Cabinet-level trip abroad.
China, North Korea top agenda as Blinken begins first Asian tour
First Quad Summit Takes on China, Diplomacy over LAC Friction
1) First ever Quad summit takes on China over vaccine push
– Leaders of the four Quad countries – India, US, Japan and Australia met for the first time at the summit level and described it as “historic”.
This summit meeting was hosted by the US and came after over thirteen years [since] the idea of the Quad first came about in 2007.

Gwynne Dyer: The Quad awakes – round up the usual suspects
Creeping shyly onto the stage via Zoom, the successor to Nato emerged into public view last Friday.
It’s called the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue – the “Quad”, for short. It’s intended to be to China what Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) was to the old Soviet Union: an alliance to deter and contain the “evil regime”, now located in Beijing, until it finally collapses.
Most of the “usual suspects” (the other Nato members) also want to join the team as players, or at least as substitutes: a Canadian warship sailed through the Taiwan Strait in January, and Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands will all deploy warships to the Indo-Pacific region later in the year.
Is “Nato in Asia” really getting ready for another decades-long cold war and/or a possible hot war? Every nuclear weapons power except Israel and perhaps Russia would be part of this confrontation, and there are many more potential flash-points in the Asia-Pacific region than there ever were in Europe.
Ryan Hass: Biden builds bridges to contend with Beijing
(Brookings) Ryan Hass writes that the Biden administration’s approach to China reflects the acknowledgement that America must build ‘situations of strength’ with like-minded nations to respond to challenges posed by rival powers—a subtle but significant departure from the Trump approach to China. This piece originally appeared in the East Asia Forum.

12 March
‘Quad’ leaders pledge new cooperation on China, COVID-19, climate
US, India, Japan and Australia plot vaccine drive for Indo-Pacific, seek to counter China’s influence, and plan an in-person summit.
(Al Jazeera) Leaders of the United States, India, Japan and Australia, convened by US President Joe Biden in a first virtual summit of the ‘Quad’ group of countries, pledged to work together to counter China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific and cooperate on COVID-19 and climate.
The leaders discussed challenges posed by China and focused on pressing global crises including climate change and the coronavirus pandemic, said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
Why Joe Biden’s Quad summit is unlikely to find consensus on containing China
C. Uday Bhaskar
Domestic sociopolitical imperatives and pandemic recovery will blunt Quad members’ larger strategic choices in relation to dealing with the China challenge
Engagement with China in certain domains, while offering resistance in others, requires a policy suppleness that might prove elusive

(SCMP) The first virtual summit of the Quad nations will take place on March 12, bringing together the leaders of four democracies: the United States, Japan, India and Australia.
This will also be the first summit meetingfor US President Joe Biden and indicative of the importance being accorded to the Indo-Pacific by the new White House inhabitant. Biden will engage with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. It is instructive, given the complex geopolitics of the region, that the Quad summit follows China’s annual “two sessions” parliamentary meetings, which began in Beijing on March 4 and ended on March 11. In the run-up to the meetings, President Xi Jinping asserted that “the biggest source of chaos in the present-day world is the United States” and added that the US “is the biggest threat to our country’s development and security”.
Advocating collective action by like-minded democratic nations is the subtext of the Biden plan to deal with the China challenge. So it seems likely that the Quad summit will seek to formalise a tentative blueprint towards this objective. … Quad nations’ domestic sociopolitical imperatives will blunt their larger strategic choices when it comes to dealing with the China challenge. On current evidence, an unambiguous consensus on how to contain China is unlikely to emerge. This kind of hedging is discernible even in the White House’s interim guidance document.

25 February
As genocide accusations grow, China hits back
(Politico China Watcher) We start with “genocide.” That’s what the Trump administration and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have labeled the mass detention and forced sterilization of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China’s far western region of Xinjiang. It’s a politically loaded, legally complex and narrative-shaping word — and at the U.N. Human Rights Council earlier this week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hit back, stating “there has never been so-called genocide.”
… On Wednesday, it was Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s turn to speak at the U.N. council, where he signaled the U.S.’s return to the body. While not addressing China or genocide directly, Blinken asserted that “those with the worst human rights records should not be members of this council.”
Here’s the tricky thing. In the U.S., State Department lawyers have determined the evidence points to crimes against humanity, falling short of genocide.
The Economist has also argued against the assignation of genocide. That’s led to push back — including from legal scholar Donald Clarke in a cogent rebuttal, and Elizabeth M. Lynch of China Law and Policy, who accuses the magazine of misogyny and ignoring “clear legal doctrine,” adding that “the systematic rape of women has repeatedly been found to constitute the physical element of genocide.” The legal debate is far from settled, however, meaning the genocide label will remain a controversial issue.
Whether China’s systematic repression of the Uighurs is deemed a “genocide” determines policy. It also puts social pressure on corporations — making it that much harder for them to do business with China when they have to engage with that label. Beijing might push back at the U.N., but if more governments decide it is carrying out genocide, it will be an indelible stain on China’s historical record. The question now is how much traction there’ll be in the coming months for other countries to place that label on China’s actions in Xinjiang.

18 February
Chris Patten: Biden’s Good Start on China
With US President Joe Biden restoring American support for multilateralism and international partnerships, the world’s democracies should be better placed to halt the Chinese government’s bullying. But China should be welcomed when it is prepared to be constructive on issues like climate change and antimicrobial resistance.
(Project Syndicate) So far, three encouraging developments stand out, suggesting that the United States will regard the huge, Leninist surveillance state not just as a competitor, but as a determined threat to all free societies.
For starters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that the Chinese communist regime is committing genocide against Muslim Uighurs in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Moreover, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has highlighted China’s failure to cooperate fully with the World Health Organization mission investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan and perhaps elsewhere in the country. If the Communist Party of China (CPC) has nothing to hide, why has it refused to be open about the source of the pandemic?Lastly, and most important, Biden himself has made clear his determination to work with partners to confront global problems. The CPC certainly falls into that category.

1 February
Myanmar Crisis Sets Stage for Biden-Xi Duel
(Bloomberg) Aung San Suu Kyi, who rose to power after being held under house arrest for years, saw her reputation as an icon of democracy plummet as a result of her government’s actions against journalists and defense of “genocide” allegations against the military for its treatment of Muslim Rohingya. Questions over her leadership kept many Western countries from investing in Myanmar, which saw growth rates tail off in recent years.
Now calls are growing for Biden to reimpose sanctions in response to the coup, setting the stage for the country’s generals to become more reliant on China, Myanmar’s biggest trading partner by far.
But it may not be so simple: The U.S. has sought to improve ties in the region with other autocracies if they help act as a buffer to China — most notably Vietnam.
Chinese President Xi Jinping appears set for an immediate geopolitical win.

28 January
To Counter China’s Rise, the U.S. Should Focus on Xi
A proposal for a full reboot of American strategy toward China.
Anonymous – The author is a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China.
In 1946, the American diplomat George Kennan wrote a lengthy cable to Washington—since dubbed the “Long Telegram”—laying out the basis for the next several decades of U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union. He published his work as an article under the simple pseudonym “X.” In that spirit, a former senior government official with deep expertise and experience dealing with China has published with the Atlantic Council a bold and ambitious new U.S. strategy toward its next great global rival. It is similarly delivered anonymously, which the author requested, and POLITICO granted. Here the author describes the broad outlines of the strategy. The full memo is available here.
China under Xi, unlike under previous leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, is no longer a status quo power. It has become what the international-relations world calls a revisionist power, a state bent on changing the world around it. For the United States, its allies and the US-led liberal international order, this represents a fundamental shift. Xi is no longer just a problem for U.S. primacy. He now presents a serious challenge to the whole of the democratic world.
… Of all the elements commonly missing from discussions of U..S strategy toward China so far, this sharper focus on the internal fault lines within the Chinese leadership is the most critical. While U.S. leaders often differentiate between China’s Communist Party government and the Chinese people, Washington must achieve the sophistication necessary to go even further, differentiating between the government and the party elite, as well as between the party elite in general and Xi Jinping personally. This becomes increasingly important as more moderate potential successors to Xi being to emerge.

25 January
China-US tensions: new American defence chief calls on Japan and South Korea to team up in Indo-Pacific
Soon after being sworn in, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin calls for Asian allies to strengthen military ties
American maritime manoeuvres in the South China Sea continue despite change of administration in the US
(SCMP) Austin, who was sworn in on Friday, did not name China but said the US opposed “any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea” and reaffirmed to his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi that the US military would respond to any attack on the Senkaku Islands under the US-Japan security treaty. The Senkakus are uninhabited islets in the East China Sea controlled by Japan but claimed by China and known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese.
While Austin is believed to lack experience in the Indo-Pacific, he has pledged to focus strategically on China and Asia. In his confirmation hearing last week he said mending alliances and focusing strategically on China would be high on his agenda.
Military tensions between China and the US have continued to rise in the first few days of the Biden administration. On Saturday, the US Indo-Pacific Command said a US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Theodore Roosevelt entered the South China Sea where it was “conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units”.
Getting the China challenge right
David Dollar and Ryan Hass
(Brookings) The Trump administration had an incoherent and inconsistent policy toward China that failed to deliver on its promises. An alternative response to the China challenge would require taking four critical steps. First, the United States must strengthen its own economy through reforms and investments that are beyond the scope of this paper but are detailed elsewhere in Brookings’s Blueprints for American Renewal & Prosperity. Second, the U.S. should work with allies in Asia and Europe to push China to continue opening its economy and developing 21st century rules for new aspects of trade. Chinese trade is more important to our allies than it is to the American economy. So while it will be tempting to try to decouple from China, decoupling is a losing strategy down the road since America’s partners would not follow suit, and the U.S. would end up isolated. Third, the U.S. needs to counter China’s assertiveness with its neighbors through a strong military presence and call out China for its undermining and violations of international rules and norms. Fourth, the U.S. needs to work with China on issues where there is common interest, especially on climate change, global public health, support to poor countries, and nuclear nonproliferation. What makes the relationship especially complicated is the need to work closely with China on some issues while countering it in other domains. For the United States, China is a partner, competitor, and challenger all at the same time.

Xi Jinping sends a warning to the US at Davos
(Quartz) Today (Jan. 25), Xi addressed Davos once again, but this time on video. He brought up some of the same themes from his 2017 speech, including multilateralism and climate change. Without mentioning Trump by name, Xi criticized the former US president’s trade war with China. And without naming the US or Joe Biden, he predicted that a conflict between Beijing and Washington would be bad for everyone.
Xi called for global collaboration on climate change, public health, technology, and saving the global economy. China is in pole position to lead on some of these issues. It recently made an ambitious pledge to become carbon-neutral by 2060, and its economy is recovering much faster than others: It grew 2.3% in 2020, the only major economy to do so, and is expected to expand 7.9% this year.
He said international institutions, including the World Health Organization, should be strengthened, and called for more collaboration on vaccines and help for developing nations. And he warned other countries not to “meddle” in China’s affairs, a phrase often used to describe international condemnation of Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan, or Tibet.
In a key reference to the US and its allies’ responses to China, Xi said that “to build small circles, or…willfully impose decoupling, supply disruption, or sanctions…will only push the world into division and even confrontation.” (The Trump administration sanctioned officials in Hong Kong, while Biden has expressed support for a club of democracies that includes India, South Korea, and Australia.)

21 January
Bloomberg politics:
On the surface, Beijing is saying warm things about U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, of “win-win” cooperation that smooths out the natural differences the two powers will have. It’s a brutal contrast to its commentary on the prior administration now Donald Trump is out the door.
President Xi Jinping is likely to talk a lot about globalization and collaboration when he addresses a virtual Davos summit of world leaders next week.
China may genuinely want a reset. But its rhetoric also carries a warning to Biden: Things got bad under Trump, and we expect you to fix it.
Take the move to sanction senior Trump-era officials, including former Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, right as Biden was inaugurated. It’s not about preventing Pompeo holidaying in Macau, but a marker that Beijing will strike back if the U.S. keeps criticizing it for its crackdown in Hong Kong and treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
The narrative on Xinjiang is particularly sensitive, with Twitter blocking the Chinese embassy in the U.S. for a post that defended policies in the region.
Biden is unlikely to be too obliging. If anything, the Democrats will escalate the critiques – a senior official has already backed an assessment that what’s happening in Xinjiang is genocide.
Even if things are more collegial on issues like climate change and the pandemic, Biden needs to show Americans and Congress he’s also standing up to Beijing, while Xi, heading towards a crucial party meeting next year, can’t afford to be seen as weak at home.
The next few weeks are likely to set the tone. – Rosalind Mathieson

13 January
Biden’s pick for top Asia official should reassure nervous allies
(WaPo) Joe Biden plans to soon announce a new Asia-related position inside the National Security Council and has chosen former State Department official Kurt Campbell to fill it.
Campbell has a high profile in the region, extensive diplomatic experience, well-honed bureaucratic skills and good relationships on Capitol Hill, all of which suggest he will have real influence over the administration’s strategy.
Campbell, one of the most senior Asia hands in the Democratic foreign policy ranks, last served in government as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs under Hillary Clinton. … Since 2013, Campbell has served as chairman and chief executive of the Asia Group, a consultancy he founded.
Biden Makes His First Bold Move on Asia
(Foreign Policy) The appointment of Kurt Campbell as Biden’s right hand on Asia will supercharge the incoming administration’s policy to counter China.
How America Can Shore Up Asian Order
A Strategy for Restoring Balance and Legitimacy
By Kurt M. Campbell and Rush Doshi
2 December 2020
Biden adviser Campbell sees China’s Asia trade focus as ‘wake-up call’
(Reuters) Campbell said he had been a big supporter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that Washington negotiated under Obama and from which Trump quickly withdrew, but added:
“I do think that it’s going to be difficult to lead from the outset with a new initiative or a new way … I’m not currently believing that that’s something that anyone could anticipate or think about out of the gate of any administration.”
Campbell nevertheless stressed that China’s recent signing of a 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – the world’s largest free trade bloc – and interest in joining the TPP, “should be a real wake up call for us.”
He said Washington’s “ticket to the big game” was the U.S. military presence and its ability to deter challenges to the current “operating system” – a reference to China’s bid to establish itself as the dominant regional power.
But it also had to demonstrate a vision for “an optimistic, open trading system” and this meant working with allies and denying China access to areas where it was necessary maintain a cutting edge, such as artificial intelligence, robotics or 5G.

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