Home Nonmilitary action The Biden administration’s China strategy – The Diplomat

The Biden administration’s China strategy – The Diplomat


Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers from around the world for their diverse insights into US policy in Asia. This conversation with Dr. Raymond Kuo – political scientist at the RAND Corporation and author of “Following the Leader” (2021) and “Contests of Initiative” (2021) – is the 324th in “The Trans-Pacific View Insight Series”.

Analyze the new fundamental pillars of the Biden administration’s China strategy, namely “invest, align and compete”.

The strategy is late and uneven, but nonetheless a good start for a coherent US strategy toward China. It centers domestic competition with China, but acknowledges that there are still issues Washington and Beijing can cooperate on (e.g. climate change, COVID-19). It also clarifies the overall political objective: to outclass China and preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Secretary Blinken also clarified that the United States not interested in regime change in Beijing, which is helpful.

The “align” pillar is best supported. Particularly compared to the previous administration, the Biden administration has done an effective job of galvanizing international cooperation and momentum against China’s threats to regional security. There is still a lot to do, especially to get the Asian partners to increase their military preparations and capabilities. Moreover, as I will discuss later, Asian countries see US economic engagement as a key indication of Washington’s engagement in the region. The withdrawal of the United States from the TPP has damaged American credibility, and I am not sure that the IPEF is enough to compensate for that.

My biggest concern is whether the Biden administration can commit the resources necessary to implement this strategy. The United States has been swivel in Asia since at least the George W. Bush administration. It’s actually happening this time, at least rhetorically. But Washington still has to devote more funding and personnel, not only for the military, but also for the diplomatic, aid and investment arms of the United States.

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There is a danger in believing that the United States can compete with China cheaply, that success does not require sometimes painful political and economic adjustment, in addition to military expenditure. This is simply not the case. The USSR never reached 60% of the American GDP. China has already passed this milestone. In particular, the United States has a lot to rebuild at home. Blinken highlighted innovation, democracy and human capital among the strengths the United States can and will rely on in its competition with China. But all of these elements are eroding, and the United States needs a coherent and ambitious national strategy to strengthen these elements and develop the resources necessary to outperform Beijing.

How does this new strategy reflect US foreign policy priorities?

The strategy shares some similarities with built-in deterrent, in the sense that the United States is attempting to pull together its wide array of capabilities into a cohesive strategy for great power competition. Like much of U.S. foreign policy, the “invest, align, and compete” approach does not sufficiently emphasize or detail the nonmilitary engagement that often interests Asian states. a clearly worded statement of principles.

Examine how the White House’s recently launched “Indo-Pacific Economic Framework” (IPEF) advances its New China Strategy.

I’m glad the United States is re-engaging in international economic policy, but there’s still a long way to go. Trump has been a disaster on trade issues, hitting his allies with tariffs while simultaneously seeking their help against China. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has maintained many of its predecessor’s tariffs, despite the critical relationship improvements that reversing them would produce.

Support for free trade is actually at a all-time high among Americans. But this issue has also been swept away in American politics. polarizationwith “Does my side win?” considerations significantly influencing attitudes towards trade. This makes it politically difficult to conclude global trade agreements.

The IPEF is structured to avoid these problems. Senate approval is not required, as these are executive orders that do not address access to the US economy. However, especially among advanced economies, states generally sign trade agreements so that their companies can earn to access to new markets. This will not happen with IPEF. Moreover, the IPEF can be easily overthrown if a trade skeptic enters the White House. I expect the Biden administration to hope the trade perks will “lock in” the deal even after they leave. But as seen with other trade deals or even the Iran nuclear deal, partisanship drives breaking even extremely well-crafted deals for domestic political purposes.

The Biden administration is finally right that the United States should push for “high quality” trade deals. But the US got it with the TPP, and even joining its new form (i.e. the CPTPP) would imply a greater economic commitment than the IPEF.

Explain China’s “Global Security Initiative” and its implications for the US-China rivalry.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announcement the GSI in April, presenting it as a counterpart to the Global Development Initiative. The speech itself didn’t offer much substance. It was mostly the same message of win-win global cooperation and the five principles of peaceful coexistence that we often see in Chinese foreign policy statements. There was also the standard opposition to a Cold War mentality (i.e. US efforts to contain China) and the desire to lead Asian states into a future of common security, but not necessarily enhanced or embedded in constraining institutions.

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Additionally, Xi and others highlighted what might be called public goods issues in their GSI discussions: COVID-19, economic recovery, some environmental issues. These are fruits at hand. States have largely aligned interests on these issues, and China can unlock mutual gains relatively easily by coordinating between governments or providing these goods directly.

But the GSI says nothing about more difficult issues where China and its neighbors have conflicting interests. If win-win is not possible, does China prioritize its own interests or consider the interests of its neighbors? For example, would Beijing be willing to submit rival maritime territorial claims to UNCLOS arbitration? Or establish a military code of conduct and procedures for sharing information between states in the region? Can he commit to decoupling trade from political disputes?

Beijing has had an uneven record on all of these issues. This partly reflects a general tendency within Chinese foreign policy to favor bilateral discussions on security issues over multilateral deliberations in highly institutionalized settings. But this is a liability in this case, as China could certainly benefit from stronger engagement mechanisms to bolster its credibility, as well as regularized policy coordination forums to coherently understand and manage disputes in matters of security.

In this sense, the United States has a strong advantage that the GSI does little to compensate for. Its network of alliances and other security ties face these difficult trade-offs directly. Even countries like Vietnam are seeking closer ties with the United States in response to Chinese coercive activities. Washington has succeeded in using the security organs to institutionalize this regional momentum and broaden political and military discussions.

Assess the risks and benefits of the new Chinese strategy for US Indo-Pacific allies.

I’m not that worried that the GSI is somehow displacing the US alliance and security network or even directly undermining US partners, for the reasons I stated earlier. The GSI does not commit China to any concrete security action, or even deeper political alignment and discussion of difficult military and political issues.

This can serve to build goodwill among, for example, African or Latin American countries wishing to engage on COVID-19 or economic challenges. But there is little reason to secure this cooperation, especially when China has other vehicles that achieve the same goals, such as the BRI. I am skeptical of Beijing’s ability to translate this engagement into real military or security coordination, especially since the PLA has limited power projection capabilities, especially beyond Asia.