Beijing – The timeline for US-China engagements in 2021, from the high-level meeting in Alaska in March to the virtual summit in Beijing and Washington in December, reflects ups and downs in the bilateral relationship over the past year.
Phrases such as “dominance around the Pacific”, “strength in trade”, “high-tech supremacy”, “human rights and freedoms” and “a voice in world leadership” are the primary themes defining the relationship between China and the United States.
Will US President Joe Biden’s China policy in 2021 continue its path in 2022? A close reading of the media coverage of Biden’s policy on international affairs, especially his views on China, may provide an answer.
Biden has abandoned the Donald Trump administration’s strategy of competing with China only through unilateral or bilateral actions with the aim of bringing the United States back to its formerly prominent place through multilateral ties and alliances. He held the “Democracy Summit” so that 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 promoting “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 will see the role of the United States in Asia driven by a consensus on digital commerce, supply chain security, sustainability and labor rights. In the last two months of 2021, many of the administration’s actions indicate a tougher economic policy directed at China.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris’ most important action on China in 2021 was a diplomatic trip to Southeast Asia from August 20 to 26, in which she reprimanded China for its “intervention” in the South China Sea and warned that the United States would support its allies in the region against Beijing’s progress.
Nearly all of Harris’ previous legislative co-sponsorships and polls on topics such as so-called human rights violations in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, as well as her opposition to allowing Chinese companies like Huawei to do business in the US, indicate she is likely to continue tirade on these issues.
On the diplomatic and foreign policy front, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has shown a clear will to shake China’s feathers. On November 17, Blinken included China on a list identifying “governments and non-state actors who, because of their violations of religious freedom, deserve to be designated under the International Religious Freedom Act.”
Blinken has been busy meeting with his colleagues since December and issuing a joint statement with the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to express concern over the erosion of democratic elements in the Hong Kong SAR’s electoral system, where he delivered a speech in Jakarta criticizes Beijing for measures that “threaten” the stability of maritime trade through the South China Sea.
On the trade and finance front, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is seen as a moderate voice and supporter of open trade and rule-based multilateralism. But on December 10, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions and investment restrictions on a number of Chinese entities for alleged human rights violations.
As for U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, she seems quite confident in aggressively confronting China when necessary. On October 4, after a month-long review of US trade policy with China, Tai unveiled the “initial steps” the administration plans to take, including a top-level meeting with China to discuss the enforcement of the “Phase One Trade Agreement” . ”And broader US concerns as well as plans to reintroduce the exclusion process for some tariffs on Chinese imports. Two months later, she welcomed the adoption of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act.
In November, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo added eight China-based technology units to the Entity List “to prevent US new technologies from being used for China’s quantum computing efforts that support military applications”. One month later, the United States added another 37 units to its unit list to “deter abuses of biotechnology” and other technologies “for military uses and human rights violations.” And in December, Raimondo said the Department of Commerce would help 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 increasing U.S. competitiveness vis-à-vis China, while the Senate passed its version in June last year.
On the defense and security front, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin defined China as the “No. 1 pace challenge” for the United States. After annual security talks with its counterpart in the Republic of Korea, Austin said China’s pursuit of hypersonic weapons “increases tensions in the region.”
When it comes to climate change, however, John Kerry, particularly the president’s envoy for climate change, sees the United States working with China as a necessary step toward tackling the climate challenge. Near the end of 2021, at the UN climate 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 move, including the proposal to rename “Taipei’s Economic and Cultural Representative Council” to “Taiwan’s Representative Office in the United States”, indicates that relations between China and the United States are likely to continue its path of intensifying differences and competition in 2022.
But despite the irreconcilable disagreements between the two sides, neither poses an existential threat to the other, which should make compromise easier if both countries can convene a courageous, risk-taking leadership approach. “Managing irreconcilability” rather than managing competition should be a first priority for both sides, with the establishment of active communication mechanisms for the purpose.
Overall, positive cooperation in trade, technology and climate change can dampen the tougher edges of strategic competition between the United States and China, as well as provide solutions to global problems that cannot be solved without meaningful cooperation between China and the United States.
Courtesy: China Daily