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Biden must master the politics of foreign policy




In COVID-19, Biden will inherit the biggest international challenge the United States has faced since the height of the Cold War. The pandemic is a time of global reorganization not to address only the coronavirus but also the underlying issues it has exposed, including an uncooperative China and the vulnerabilities of interdependence. Biden must be ambitious at home and abroad, as these areas are inextricably linked. The tricky part is that he has to build a bold policy within the political constraints of Washington, where Democrats cannot carry the Senate.

Biden is expected to use competition with China as a bridge to Senate Republicans. Their instincts may be obstructionist, especially because Trump is pressuring them not to recognize Bidens’ victory as legitimate, but many of them also know that the United States cannot afford four years of legislative blockade if they want to compete with China. A number of Republican foreign policy experts have pointed out to me that some Senators, including Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, may be looking for scalps, but others, including Susan Collins, Joni Ernst, Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, and Dan Sullivan, are primarily interested in the substance of Bidens’ foreign policy, particularly towards China. Biden, then, can use competition with the country to gain support for other policy measures.

He can create goodwill with some of those Republicans by supporting, in the first weeks of his tenure, the current legislation on investments in the semiconductor industry and 5G infrastructure, by appointing deputy secretaries. for Asia to the State Department and the Pentagon who can easily win bipartisan. support, and showing that he is serious in using the Treasury and Commerce departments to compete with China.

These efforts would lay the groundwork for critical elements of the national Bidens Build Back Better program: targeted investments in infrastructure, including clean technology; an industrial policy to compete with China on 5G, quantum computing and artificial intelligence; China’s limited and strategic decoupling in certain areas; and efforts to strengthen the resilience of the US economy to external shocks, including by strengthening the security of supply chains.

While some in Biden Land support this bipartisan compromise, others, including many restaurateurs, are very skeptical of using competition with China as a framework for US foreign and domestic policy. Some also have basic reservations about any decoupling from China. They expect China to attempt a reset in early 2021, possibly with regards to the pandemic and climate change, and are keen to explore opportunities for cooperation. Foreign policy progressives are also generally opposed to the construction of Bidens’ foreign policy around competition with China, believing that the strategy risks creating a cold war.

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