The Chinese have not honored the “first phase” of the trade agreement. The United States expects agricultural purchases from China to grow. Biden and Congress are pressuring Xi Jinping on human rights. The blacklist of Chinese high-tech companies remains. US warships are stepping up their presence in the South China Sea. Blinken at work to restore alliances and involve Europe.
Beijing (AsiaNews) – US tariffs on Chinese exports will remain, at least until a conclusive study into their effects, says Janet Yellen. The new US Treasury Secretary confirmed yesterday predicts Joe Biden would maintain the hard line desired by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.
This stance dampens Chinese hopes of opening a new chapter in relations with Washington after four tense years.
In an attempt to resolve the trade war started by Trump, in January 2019, the two sides signed a preliminary agreement (the so-called “phase one”) with which China pledged to buy around € 184 billion worth of goods and services of the United States by the end of 2021.
The goal was not achieved; Beijing imported 42% less. He justified himself by arguing that the drop in purchases was due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yellen did not rule out that Beijing could still meet the commitments it made with the Trump administration. For example, Washington expects exponential growth in its agricultural exports to China this year, reaching a record high of $ 31.5 billion.
But all this still seems too little to ease the geopolitical conflict between the two powers.
Since his inauguration, Biden has repeatedly reiterated that China will “pay a price” for its repeated human rights violations. On February 10, during the first contact with his Chinese counterpart, the Democratic leader criticized Xi Jinping for the repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the suppression of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and Beijing’s aggressive actions against Taiwan.
Biden is under pressure from Republicans and Democrats on the human rights front, who largely share the view that a “Trumpian” approach is needed to deal with Beijing. The US Congress is preparing to approve a law banning imports of goods produced in Xinjiang. They will only be allowed if there is “convincing evidence” that local companies do not exploit forced labor in the manufacturing sector.
Besides tariffs, Biden maintained another pillar of Trump’s anti-Beijing policy: the blacklist of Chinese high-tech companies suspected of having ties to their country’s military. These include the giants Huawei, Xiaomi and Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Ely Ratner, head of the Pentagon’s new China task force, said yesterday that tech competition with the Asian giant was a high priority for Biden’s presidency.
Meanwhile, US ships continue to operate in the South China Sea, where Beijing has occupied and militarized atolls and coral reefs claimed – with US support – by other countries in the region. On February 16, the destroyer USS Russell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands; on February 8, the USS John S. McCain did the same near the Paracels. Last week, two US aircraft carriers (Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz) conducted a rare joint exercise in the region.
To counter the Chinese military advance in East Asia, the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has pledged to strengthen ties with allies and regional partners: for the moment, this is the only aspect that differentiates Biden’s diplomatic conduct of Trump who did not want to use that of Washington’s proven alliance system.
Yesterday, Blinken had a virtual meeting with his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India. The intention is to strengthen the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which China regards as the embryo of an Indo-Pacific NATO.
Blinken also had three-way talks with foreign ministers from Germany, France and Great Britain. They agreed on the need to coordinate actions to deal with the challenges posed by China: a sign that Biden wants to widen the opposition front in Beijing as much as possible and avoid the possibility of the Chinese taking advantage of the Europeans to obtain Washington concessions.
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