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President Joe Biden’s wasted strategic approach on China

On the first day of President Joe Biden’s administration, he reinstated the United States into the Paris Climate Accord, opened talks on the Iran Nuclear Deal, and re-established Washington’s commitment to the NATO alliance.

All of these contrasted with former Republican President Donald Trump. However, the United States’ greatest adversary China has experienced little respite nor change from former President Trump’s aggressive tactics to contain their influence in Asia and beyond. Indeed, Biden’s team insists on taking inspiration from Trump, while simultaneously applying greater pressure on Beijing.

Biden officials defend their stance, maintaining that bipartisan support is crucial to managing a rising China. This is grounded in Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s insistence that a multilateral strategy that relies on the support of allies both regionally in East Asia, and further afield is imperative.

Some commentators have noted the diplomatic laziness in purporting and mimicking the foreign policy of Trumps administration under the guise of bipartisanship. “Biden has sought to redefine the U.S.-China strategic rivalry as a struggle between democracy and autocracy. This has become one core element of the so-called Biden Doctrine,” commented a Professor of International Politics at the University of Bristol, Yonghin Zhang, via email.

A discernible shift towards the containment of Beijing marked former President Trump’s time in office. It proved far tougher than Obama’s previous attempt at appeasing China, towards explicitly exclusionary policies to deal with China in an ever more uneasy relationship.

The 2017 National Security Strategy crafted by Trump, “signaled the first time since the end of the Cold War that the United States returned to a focus on major-power competition,” said Patrick Cronin, a chief analyst for The Hudson Institute, in 2019.

Faced with the potent threat of strongmen, such as Vladimir Putin, Jair Bolsonaro, and Viktor Orban politics globally has become thwarted by the ever-present fear of emergent wars and attacks on human rights. These have, most generally, been guided by the growth of illiberal democratic values that push back against what we might formerly think of as the liberal and peaceful moment guided by U.S. foreign policy. Whether liberal in practice is up for debate although it was certainly portrayed as such.

It would be pertinent to note the naivety of political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s belief that the U.S. triumph over and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 thwarted humanity's desire for illiberal democracy. Fukayama described the moment, writing that “not just… the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such… and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.”

So many believers in the triumph of Western liberal values wished to believe in a brief moment of peace. However, such a triumph of the Western liberal model should not be overshadowed by the suffering and unjust practices that grew exponentially in the prelude to 1991. It would be irresponsible to forget the many millions of lives that were attacked and lost during the Western tirade on communism. Whether it was the triggering of military coups and consequential support of military dictatorships across Latin America and Indonesia or the Vietnam War that egregiously spread to neighboring Laos and Cambodia, via the reprehensible use of agent orange, the U.S. retains a lot of responsibility for international harm that pushes beyond our imagination.  

The U.S. bares a huge responsibility for an extremely grim history, wound up within and beyond its borders that does not hail enough attention. China has committed heinous crimes against the Uighur people, culminating in the genocide of the Uighur people. These two countries sit on opposing sides of a battling power imbalance, yet both share the same exponential hunger for growth and power. When a country rises to power, it is often followed by egregious acts of destruction and relentless attacks upon groups of people that do not form a part of their idea of what the future should look like.

Strategic analysts often comment that it may be in Washington’s favor to continue with a strong arm in its management of Beijing, utilising this as a mechanism to curtail China’s growing economic and political mite. Or, alternatively, as a means to prevent similar strongmen from following Ji Jinping’s path towards destabilising the power imbalance that has existed for decades.

Although, considering the declaration of war in Ukraine, a move towards greater alignment with China to thwart the strength of President Vladimir Putin would be beneficial to global peacemaking. It is no secret that Beijing and Moscow have a close friendship, but it is not known how this relationship manifests itself regarding wartime strategy.

Despite often exaggerated predictions, China’s military strength has increased dramatically over the past decade. Often coupled with an oversimplified narrative that China poses a communist threat in East Asia, a tough line on China, according to analysts, should be considered as strategically beneficial. 

While numbers on Chinese defense spending are shrouded in inaccuracy, the numbers are alarming. According to official data, defense spending rose by 7.1% to $230 billion last year, a far greater acceleration when compared to 2021. These figures worry military analysts in all corners of the globe thinking about China’s increasing tendency to exercise military authority.

“We will move faster to modernize the military’s logistics and asset management systems, and build a modern weaponry and equipment management system,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said in an annual government work report released this time last year. Although it is important to note that the U.S. defense budget for 2022 amounted to just under $770 billion, far outpacing Beijing’s spending. Importantly, the bolstering of Beijing’s armed military stems from its deep-rooted commitment to nationalism. Entangled in this and at the forefront of national integrity is the importance of Taiwan. Indeed, Taipei has long rejected China’s claim on its independence subsequently opting to forge greater ties with the U.S. in a variety of ways. Since 1979, when Taiwan was granted independence by the US China has become increasingly aggressive in its strategy towards Taipei, particularly more recently under Jinping.

India poses a significant aspect of both former President Trump’s strategy on China and current President Biden’s strategy on China. Although President Narendra Modi’s politics are often considered by commentators as antithetical to Western values that uphold human rights, the sheer economic importance of India is of great significance for the interests of the U.S. and other nations across the globe. Ultimately, New Delhi is hesitant of aligning with Washington’s containment strategy of China due to the latent conflict that exists along the over 60,000-mile-long border that separates the two countries. India would have a lot to lose if they were to pursue a containment strategy toward Beijing.

 The Biden administration seems to become more provocative (in the eyes of the Chinese) in challenging China's core national interest in regard to Taiwan,” said Zhang in an email, “The Russian invasion of Ukraine has undoubtedly hardened the Biden administration's China policy.”



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