Joe Biden should resist calls to soften the policy toward China
Despite many criticisms of the approach of Donald Trump toward China, the approach of Joe Biden looks a lot like itm and the new administration faces enormous pressure to back off. The pressure is ratcheting up from Beijing, even in a form of veiled threats. There will also be pressure from American companies, technology giants, and progressive officials within the administration jockeying for influence and collaboration with China in climate change and on the coronavirus pandemic.
A cornerstone of the former administration to deter Chinese aggression in the Indo Pacific and defend American interests in the Western Pacific was bolstering the security of Taiwan. It did this by approving weapons sales to Taiwan and rallying international support for the democratic island. It sent former Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar to Taiwan. Azar was the highest ranking American official to visit the Asian country since 1979. Then without skipping a beat, the new administration invited Bikhim Hsiao, the Taiwanese representative to the United States, to the inauguration of Biden, and in response to Chinese military provocations against Taiwan, the Pentagon deployed the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier and its strike group to the South China Sea.
Hua Chunying, a Chinese spokeswoman, called the inauguration of Biden “a new day” for the United States. China then levied sanctions on the most public Trump officials who had carried out an overdue pressure campaign against China. They include Azar, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former national security advisers Matthew Pottinger and John Bolton. Sharp analysis from Sinocism observes the importance of the sanctions as less of a hit on the former administration and more as threats against new Biden officials. The message from the Communist Party is that if you keep pushing it hard, then you will be personally punished.
Yet in his Senate confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not depart much from the bold and principled positions of the former administration. Blinken agreed with Pompeo that the Communist Party is carrying out genocide against Uyghurs. Then in a media interview, Blinken once more cited how China curtails the democratic laws and processes in Hong Kong and reiterated the importance of ensuring that the American military stands ready to deter the Chinese aggression.
Meanwhile, the public warnings have continued from Beijing. In a recent video address, Chinese official Yang Jiechi warned the administration not to cross the “red lines” on Xinjiang and Hong Kong. However, if the United States is to successfully win the competition with the Communist Party, it will have to cross those “red lines” over and over again.
Things to watch for in the coming months and years that will determine the approach toward China include continued defense investments in the ongoing great power competition. This will include shipbuilding, missile production, and deployments in the Indo Pacific, along with investments in efforts to credibly deter war by bolstering our nuclear modernization efforts, fully resourcing the space sensor layer to track the new evolving missile threats, and increasing collaboration with our allies.
It is not just the military side that will be critical. The former administration led a global campaign to convince allies to exclude Huawei from their 5G networks after placing the technology giants on the trade blacklist. The United States should also turn talks of an industrial policy into action to decrease dependence on China and increase the vibrancy of American manufacturing while shoring up our national sovereignty.
Those alerted to the existential threats from the Communist Party to the United States and to the American way of life have been rightly skeptical of Biden, in part because of his previous softer approach toward China. Lawmakers are putting the new administration on notice. Whether Biden and his team can resist the growing pressure from China may depend on how Congress will apply effective measures to hold the line.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is a senior national security fellow with the Hudson Institute and contributing foreign policy editor at Providence Magazine.