Joe Biden will undoubtedly have to define his Chinese policy faster than expected. The latest moves by the Trump administration and the sanctions Beijing has imposed on 28 outgoing U.S. government officials place the Democratic president in a dilemma. Going back on certain decisions would give the appearance of weakness, and maintaining them will not facilitate the resumption of dialogue between Washington and Beijing.
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The choice of firmness
For now, the Biden administration has clearly made the choice of firmness. A spokesperson for the National Security Council called “Unproductive and cynical” bans on access to Chinese territory and trade with China, decreed, among others, against former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other hawks, such as Donald Trump’s advisers Peter Navarro and Matthew Pottinger. Taiwan’s representative in the United States was invited to the inauguration ceremony of the new president, a gesture presented by Taipei as a first. During his hearing on Tuesday 19 January before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, the future Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke increased insurance. “We can win the competition with China” he asserted by describing the rival superpower as “The most important challenge”. “Donald Trump was right to take a firmer stance against China” he added. The future head of American diplomacy said he shared the accusation of “Genocide” perpetrated by China against Uyghur Muslims, made public Tuesday, January 19, by Mike Pompeo.
“We must tackle China’s abusive, unfair and illegal practices” in commercial matters, hammered, for his part, the future Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen. As for the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, confirmed on Wednesday, January 20, by a very large majority by the Senate, she admitted in hollow that the Democrats had not been firm enough under the administration of Barack Obama. “I am in favor of an aggressive position” she said, for “Respond to the reality of a more self-confident and more aggressive China”.
A common front to contain China
However, Joe Biden promises a diplomacy opposed to Donald Trump’s unilateralism. “ We will mend our alliances and engage with the world again “ insisted the president in his inaugural speech. “We will be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security “. By joining the Paris climate agreement, the Democratic President intends to give himself the means to put pressure on China so that it respects its commitments and does not engage in “climate dumping”.
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In an attempt to contain the assertion of Chinese power, the new administration will seek to create a “common front”, by strengthening its network of regional alliances, in particular in the Asia-Pacific region. “We must face China from a position of strength, not of weakness” emphasizes Antony Blinken. In other words, “By working with the allies” and playing the leverage effect of America’s active role in international institutions.
Beijing between cooperation and confrontation
Faced with this new situation, the Chinese government is blowing hot and cold. The spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs congratulated Joe Biden on Thursday, January 21, paraphrasing his speech to appeal for “The unit” in the relationship between the two powers. Beijing is making overtures calling for greater cooperation between the two countries, while propagating conspiracy theories linking a US military laboratory to the coronavirus.
An editorial, published Sunday, January 17, in the Chinese tabloid Global Times, called on Joe Biden to “ actively consider abolishing all diplomatic decisions taken by the previous administration during its recent surprise attack ”. Not sure that China will quickly obtain satisfaction, when a bipartisan consensus designates it in Washington as the number one strategic rival.