Politics Biden's (mostly) straight talk on China

17:33  16 february  2021
17:33  16 february  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Fact check: Breaking down Joe Biden's first month of claims

  Fact check: Breaking down Joe Biden's first month of claims President Joe Biden was more consistently factual in his first month in office than his predecessor ever was in office. But Biden was not perfect.President Joe Biden was more consistently factual in his first month in office than his predecessor ever was in office. But Biden was not perfect himself.

Last week, the Biden administration sent two aircraft carriers into the South China Sea in the escalating signaling between Washington and Beijing. China is openly pressing the president to reverse the Trump administration's across-the-board "confrontational" strategy." That would be a mistaken return to failed pre-Trump policies that the new team seems poised to avoid.

Xi Jinping wearing a suit and tie: Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden © Getty Images Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Biden

Biden is trying to balance several competing imperatives: keeping China at bay but still in communication while his team develops its own coherent policy, and distinguishing his strategy from both the Obama and Trump approaches without scrapping the latter's historically important initiatives.

Call between Biden and China’s Xi portends rocky road in post-Trump era

  Call between Biden and China’s Xi portends rocky road in post-Trump era The president pressed human rights concerns such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and Xinjiang, which Beijing sees as nonnegotiable issues of sovereignty. In the call Wednesday evening U.S. time, Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke in conciliatory tones about the importance of a healthy bilateral relationship, according to the Chinese state broadcaster. But Xi pointedly warned President Biden to “act prudently” on the three regions, where China’s forceful policies have drawn U.S. condemnation.

The day after the carrier passages, Biden finally accepted the telephone conversation Chinese leaders Xi Jinping had sought for months, delayed until Washington could consult with U.S. allies - a deliberate departure from the perceived "go-it-alone" Trump style. Biden tweeted that he "shared concerns about Beijing's economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan. I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people."

In a slightly more informative statement on the two-hour conversation, the White House said Biden "affirmed his priorities of protecting America's domestic welfare and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific." He "underscored his fundamental concerns about Beijing's coercive and unfair economic practices, crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and increasingly assertive actions in the region, including toward Taiwan."

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As China's Xinhua news agency reported it: "The Taiwan question and issues relating to Hong Kong, Xinjiang, etc. are China's internal affairs and concern China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the U.S. side should respect China's core interests and act prudently, Xi stressed."

Later that day, Biden visited the Pentagon and announced an expedited review of the U.S. defense posture in Asia. The panel will focus on U.S. capabilities to meet the China challenge and will be headed by Ely Ratner, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's special assistant for China.

Ratner collaborated with Kurt Campbell, national security adviser Jake Sullivan's Asia director, in a 2018 Foreign Affairs article that may suggest some of Ratner's thinking in preparing the review. It is unclear what role, if any, Campbell might play, since he was compelled to recuse himself from many China-related issues because of prior business dealings with Chinese entities.

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The authors acknowledged that the China engagement policies they long supported are no longer tenable. The view that, beyond building corporate and personal profits and enhancing professional careers, integrating China into the international community would moderate its domestic and international behavior has proved hopelessly naive and mostly irrelevant.

"Nearly half a century since Nixon's first steps toward rapprochement, the record is increasingly clear that Washington once again put too much faith in its power to shape China's trajectory," they wrote. They might have added, the foreign policy establishment also put too little credulity in the permanency of Chinese communism's malevolent intentions.

In now accepting as conventional wisdom what only a few years ago was spurned as outmoded Cold War recidivism, the authors paint with too broad a brush in equating and discarding all prior thinking on the China threat: "All sides of the policy debate erred: free traders and financiers ... integrationists ... and hawks who believed that China's power would be abated by perpetual American primacy."

Beijing and Washington lay down 'red lines' — who will blink first?

  Beijing and Washington lay down 'red lines' — who will blink first? How firmly will Biden’s team adhere to the Trump framework and their own rhetoric in standing up to China?In fact, they lasted only days. By the end of the week, Beijing had laid down the law, so to speak, to the Biden administration. First was a speech billed as a "Dialogue with National Committee on U.S.-China Relations," by Yang Jiechi, director of China's Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs.

The authors wrongly conflate U.S. economic and military capabilities with the demonstrated will to exercise that primacy. Beijing long has doubted America's sustained resolve to meet its many challenges across the gamut of national interests. That low opinion of U.S. constancy has been aided and abetted by intellectual, political and journalistic voices in the West openly questioning whether defending too-broadly-defined security interests in Asia are worth the economic and human costs.

Arguing that "neither carrots nor sticks have swayed China as predicted," Ratner and Campbell wrongly compared more than four decades of misguided engagement policies with the very brief period of comprehensive challenge under the Trump administration - which had been in office little over a year when the article was published.

The experience of President Trump's full term should have demonstrated the relative effectiveness of a more realistic, interests- and values-driven approach to the China challenge. In adopting the "clear-eyed rethinking" that the article urges, Ratner surely will stress the need to augment the meritorious elements of the Trump administration's policies with stronger cooperation among allies and security partners, though Trump's team did far more in that regard than is acknowledged - e.g., the U.S. "quad" relations with Japan, Australia and India.

Jill Biden is hitting the ground running -- in all directions

  Jill Biden is hitting the ground running -- in all directions As far as Jill Biden is concerned, there isn't necessarily going to be one "first lady platform," or even two or three. A month into the job, and Biden has heaped a lot on her agenda, unsure at the moment exactly how it will unfold, only that it will "naturally evolve," she has told her staff.Unlike her predecessor Melania Trump, Biden has packed a calendar-full of events, appearances (most virtual) and interviews, aggressively pursuing policy passion projects, and maintaining her schedule as a teacher at a northern Virginia community college.

Meanwhile, there have been mixed, but mostly positive, signals from the Biden administration, especially regarding Taiwan, which Beijing has made a flashpoint for the U.S.-China conflict. In addition to the president highlighting Taiwan with Xi, de facto Ambassador Bi-Khim Hsiao met with U.S. officials last week. The State Department said it showed "the U.S. is deepening ties with Taiwan, a leading democracy and important economic and security partner."

Biden missed an opportunity to further strengthen U.S.-Taiwan ties and enhance Taiwanese and U.S. security when he said during his visit to the Pentagon, "I will never hesitate to use force to defend the vital interests of American people and our allies around the world when necessary." Had he included "security partners" in the U.S. defense commitment, it would have subtly ended the strategic ambiguity that keeps China planning and preparing to attack Taiwan.

Biden also pleased Beijing last week by rescinding Trump national security restrictions on TikTok and WeChat, and a requirement that U.S. universities disclose their contractual arrangements with Chinese entities such as the Confucius Institutes.

But two U.S. officials annoyed China by appropriately pushing back on its dishonest behavior. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had a "frank and tough" phone conversation with senior Chinese official Yang Jiechi and laid out the U.S. position on Taiwan and other issues. Yang told him bluntly, "Let's each manage our own business." At the same time, Beijing criticized Sullivan for "pointing fingers" when he said the World Health Organization (WHO) report on the coronavirus origin would be credible only if it were not subject to "alteration by the Chinese government."

If the steady, straight talk from Biden, Blinken and Sullivan continues, it will be an improvement over the hot-and-cold rhetoric from Trump that alternately reinforced and undermined the historic advances made by his foreign policy and national security appointees. That would be a welcome demonstration of bipartisan unity on America's greatest existential danger.

Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute.

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usr: 1
This is interesting!