Prepared by the researcher : Dr. Islam Aiadi – Assistant Professor – Arab American University – Researcher in Chinese Affairs
Democratic Arab Center
Three months after the receipt of US President Joe Biden, since January 20th, 2021, it appears that China still represents the most important strategic threat and competitor to the United States of America, and Biden’s administration inherited relations with it, which are at their lowest levels in decades, as it witnessed a state of tension and complexity during Trump’s administration, it took many strict policies and stances towards China, which prompted Biden’s administration to evaluate and review the US policy towards China. Although it is still under comprehensive study, the moves, statements and signals issued by President Biden and his administration clarify the initial reading of this strategy, as follows:
First: Trump’s legacy, US-Chinese relations witnessed a state of turmoil, tension and intensified competition, which some feared would reach the point of conflict due to the strict policies that Trump’s administration adopted towards China on many issues, including China’s trade practices, and the raising of tariffs on Chinese imports, Accusing it of violating intellectual property rights, stealing American technology, and placing the Chinese telecommunications group “Huawei” and other Chinese companies on the United States’ blacklist, for seeing it as a threat to American national security, In addition to criticizing China’s attempt to supply other countries with fifth-generation technology to “Huawei”, describing it as a threat to democracy, and it will be spied through these networks, in addition to the escalation of the dispute over the expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea and the situation in Hong Kong and the Xinjiang region, and accusation Trump told China to cover up the origins of the Covid-19 virus.
Second: Biden’s administration’s moves, Biden’s administration team showed indications that it would maintain a strict stance towards China. After Biden’s inauguration, White House spokeswoman Jane Psaki announced that Washington was in serious competition with Beijing, and that the president would deal with China “with patience.” The statements of the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, also reflected his support for Trump’s strict approach to China, and that it poses the greatest strategic challenge and threat, despite his assertion that there is no agreement with Trump’s methods, and called for a path that focuses more on Washington’s allies and working within multilateral frameworks, as he criticized China. For its lack of transparency in revealing how the Corona virus emerged, and describing the relationship as “complex”, containing a mixture of “hostile”, “competitive” and “cooperative” dimensions, which must be dealt with from a position of strength.
The US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, also indicated that China is the “most important threat”, and that the National Defense Strategy of 2018, which views China and Russia as two dangerous threats, is on the right track completely, and stressed that Washington needs a stronger response to China’s increasing rise in the field of artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies. In the same context, Jake Sullivan, national security adviser stressed the importance of dealing with China firmly, and America’s work to reform its democracy to better confront China.
In the context of adopting the US foreign policy for diplomacy to link US relations with the ally and rival country, President Biden contact with Chinese President Xi Jinping came to reopen a dialogue with China on the pending issues between them. However, this contact reflected the continuing tension between the two countries, as it touched on “China’s practices. Economic, the crackdown in Hong Kong, human rights violations in Shenjiang, the increasing expansion of Chinese influence in the South China Sea, and the assertion that America gives priority to keeping the Indian and Pacific Oceans free and open, it’s the region that represents a major and strategic rivalry between the United States and China. The Chinese media commented that the issues raised are “China’s internal affairs and related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Also Biden indicated in his statements to “CBS”, “There is no need to be a conflict between us, rather there will be intense competition.” In his first speech on foreign policy, he described China as “the biggest competitor”, stressing Washington’s readiness to act. With Beijing when it is in America’s interest, and in a tougher position, Biden in his speech during the Munich Security Conference urged his allies to cooperate together to address the Chinese political and economic challenges, and to work together within a tough and long-term strategic competition with China, and stressed that Washington will work with the international community to get China to protect those rights.
In the context of linking the Biden’s administration between confronting China and strengthening its alliances, especially Western alliances, which were subjected to great pressure and crisis during Trump’s administration, it made rapid moves to strengthen relations with the main European allies and mobilized them to work in a collective framework to contain China and face the Chinese economic and technological challenges.
Biden’s administration also quickly took measures to reassure Asian allies of the continued US commitment to them. In the South China Sea, which remains a hotspot in the tense relations between the two countries, US aircraft carriers have conducted freedom of operation exercises, which the US Navy regularly conducts to show their presence in international waters that demand China, as the US destroyer John S. McCain near the Paracel Islands under the control of Beijing, which aroused China’s discontent, as well as Washington’s warning to China against the use of force in the water of the South China Sea, and reiterated its view that the resolute campaign led by China in the disputed waters is illegal, and expressed its concern about the law Chinese Navy, It confirmed that China’s claims of sovereignty over most of the water of the South China Sea is “illegal”. Washington also warned China against trying to intimidate Taiwan after Chinese warplanes entered the island’s air defense zone, and confirmed its support for Taiwan against what it called “China’s attempts to terrorize its neighbors.”
The US Defense Secretary assured the Japanese counterpart of US support for Japan, and that the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which Beijing also claims and is called the Diaoyu, are subject to a security treaty that obliges the United States and Japan to defend each other, in addition to their opposition to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo. In the East China Sea.
Therefore, Biden’s appointment of Kurt Campbell as coordinator for the Indian and Pacific Oceans is a sign that Washington is placing the Asia-Pacific region at the forefront of its foreign policy priorities, and that it is pursuing a multilateral approach to deal with China’s power, by building better alliances in Asia to meet China’s multiple challenges in the region. The Indian and Pacific Oceans region, where Campbell supports the policy of “pivoting toward Asia” and is seen as a champion of using alliances to contain China, and he has a firm relationship with the US allies in this region.
Confrontation has also emerged in international institutions and organizations. Despite the return of Biden’s administration to the World Health Organization (WHO), from which Trump withdrew criticizing Beijing’s influence in it due to the Corona virus, Biden’s administration appeared not satisfied with the organization’s investigation in China on the origin of the Corona virus. It called on Beijing to cooperate with the investigation and ensure that the expert mission remains independent and “free from any interference or influence.”
On the other hand, Biden’s administration is working to improve the internal situation politically and economically and work to restore America’s leadership in the world to confront the Chinese rise, and in this context, it should be noted that despite the internal division in America, there is a consensus between the republican and democratic parties to follow a stricter policy to the increasing Chinese competition.
Biden’s administration took a plan to strengthen the US economy, support domestic industry and diversify supply chains, and try to undermine the dominance of Chinese exports. However, it remains unclear how Biden’s administration will deal with the issue of tariffs remaining after the signing of the first phase trade agreement in 2020, but the White House announced that Biden would not rush to change tariffs, and would take a multilateral approach to deal with China, including assessing the currently applied tariffs. Biden’s administration also continued its policy of pressure regarding intellectual property, competition in the field of emerging technologies, and continued US pressure on Huawei.
Third: Forming a special team to evaluate and redraw US policy towards China, at a time when Biden’s administration is formulating its policy towards China, President Biden made a decision during his visit to the Pentagon to form a working group to review the American strategy towards China under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense, as he wishes to adopt a military strategy Firm towards China, stressing at the same time that the use of force should be the “last tool” for the solution, and stressing that this strategy requires a full governmental effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strengthening American alliances to face the increasing challenges posed by China and defend their interests in the Indian and pacific Oceans.
This team consists of 15 civilian and military advisers, and will have four months to present its recommendations to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and will be chaired by Biden’s former diplomatic advisor who specializes in China, Eli Ratner. This team aims to determine the military and necessary position to deploy US military forces in the Pacific Ocean, to confront Beijing’s regional ambitions, develop cooperation with allies, and determine the type of relations the United States wishes to establish with the Chinese army, or even the types of weapons that can or cannot be developed.
According to these data, the formation of a clear US policy towards China is still being studied, but Biden will certainly follow a strategy to confront the challenges posed by China in a way that serves US interests. Initially, all the diplomatic moves and statements that have emerged from Biden’s administration since taking office indicate that it is “a strategy for a competitive relationship that relies on a more patient and firm approach, dealing more diplomatically with hostile, competitive and cooperative aspects of relations between the two countries, and strengthening American alliances,” Especially in Asia and Europe and mobilizing them in an international alliance in order to form a united front to compete with China and contain the Chinese economic and political challenges, in addition to the continuation of the confrontation over the file of human rights, democracy and regional expansion to ensure the stability of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and work to strengthen the economy and the foundations of American democracy, and emphasize the role “Global America in defending human rights, and working with the international community to urge China to protect those rights, while continuing to adopt many of Trump’s strict pressure policies towards China, but with different methods of implementation and with a more flexible and diplomatic approach.
To conclude that, the shape and nature of relations between China and US, during the next four years, will certainly have their repercussions on the map of global alliances and the nature of the international system, as President Biden’s policy in the world and toward China during this period is vital for the future of the United States of America, so either the United States of America returns during this period, writing the rules of the international system again and confronting the Chinese dragon, or Biden fails and the United States of America yields to the rise of China in the international system, and the biggest challenge here is whether Biden can really strengthen the US economy to compete with China, this is what we will expect to happen in the coming years.