The Biden government did not exactly roll the red carpet for this meeting. Yesterday, he announced his subpoenas against top Chinese companies suspected of threatening national security, and last week Blinken told the Foreign Ministry that he believes the Chinese government believes was committing “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. What does this tell us about how the government plans to approach diplomacy vis-à-vis China?
It tells you that the Biden government has so far sounded much tougher than many people expected. This should come as no surprise. While the Republican talking point during the campaign was that Biden would give away the store to the Chinese, the history of Biden and his leading foreign policy assistants, Blinken and Sullivan, points to a very different approach. They focus on technological competition with China, the threat of continued cyberattacks (and China is arguably behind one of the largest in recent weeks, targeting Microsoft systems), and new forms of military competition.
As Sullivan noted in an essay published last year, it is possible that China wants to follow the American model of 130 years ago, build its fleet and expand its reach, to push us further and further east into the Pacific. . But it is equally possible that its strategy is to deploy its 5G networks around the world, make countries dependent on their aid, its infrastructure projects and its vaccines, and spread such influence. Or it can try both. In any case, we now have a full-fledged rival – an economic and technological rival and a military adversary.
The summonses served by Biden’s Department of Commerce to the Chinese companies were sent out under a Trump administration policy, which allows the executive to intervene in the sale of foreign-made communications equipment if national security is considered dangerous. Would you say that US-China relations are a rare area in which Biden does not want a harsh disruption of his predecessor’s policies?
The Biden team certainly did not walk away from the instruments of power that Trump exercised; I think it realizes that Trump has accurately identified the importance of addressing the China challenge. The Biden camp only believes he confronted it the wrong way. Trump thought he could ban Chinese technologies and impose sanctions on the country until it came to the negotiating table.
But China is too big to punish effectively. And at the end of the day, the US needs to innovate and deliver competitive products. For the Biden team, this means that we need our own answer to 5G networks, because there is currently no alternative manufactured by America. This means that we must make progress with semiconductors and artificial intelligence, even if it requires an innovative, government-backed industrial policy.