One of the most critical starting points expected from the Biden administration regarding the direction of US foreign policy is the renewed focus on US alliances and partners to meet the challenges emerging from China’s growing ambitions. compete with the United States.
US President Joe Biden finally spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping. This has raised a lot of speculation about how the United States will treat China. President Bidens’ likely inclination towards China had already been an important part of the debate among members of the academic and policy community. Growing differences between the United States and China on a number of important relevant areas relate to bilateral trade, rules-based Indo-Pacific security architecture, and the maritime domain. The telephone conversation between the two leaders took place at a time when the rest of the world was closely watching Bidens’ moves to regain American supremacy and how the United States will come to master the management of regional and global politics.
Even before Joe Biden stepped into the Oval Office as the 46th President of the United States, the future trajectory of US-China relations was perhaps the most important debate for political elites. It is undeniable that the US-China relationship has taken a more confrontational turn under the Trump administration. The question is whether there will be a substantial shift in the relationship with the start of Biden’s presidency, or whether the downturn in US-China relations will remain a feature regardless of the changing of the guard.
According to the White House’s reading of the Biden-Xi phone conversation, President Biden, while exploring likely areas of cooperation, also clarified areas of contention. Therefore, while speaking about common challenges such as global health security, climate change and preventing the proliferation of weapons, Biden underscored the fundamental concerns of the Americas regarding Beijing’s coercive and unjust economic practices, repression in Hong Kong, the human rights violations in Xinjiang and the increasingly assertive actions. in the region, including to Taiwan. It is incumbent on any new administration to conduct a review of the country’s foreign and domestic policies. The importance of this review is more evident given the disruptive four years of the Trump presidency. However, barring any differences over how the Trump administration has treated China, strong bipartisan support appears to be emerging in Washington that China should be run from a position of strength.
Another notable telephone conversation was that between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Yang Jiechi, office director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of China. Readings of the conversation released by the U.S. State Department and China’s Foreign Ministry reflect serious differences over Indo-Pacific affairs. The display of military force on both sides in the Taiwan Strait since Biden’s presidency began, indicates a near future of continued competition, contestation and confrontation even as the two sides attempt to maneuver areas of cooperation. While Blinken expressed the Americas’ intention to work with its allies and partners to hold the PRC accountable for its efforts to threaten stability in the Indo-Pacific, Jiechi urged the United States to rectify its mistakes made on a period of time and to work with China to uphold the spirit of conflict-free, confrontation-free, mutual respect and win-win cooperation.
One of the most critical starting points expected from the Biden administration regarding the direction of US foreign policy is the renewed focus on US alliances and partners to meet the challenges emerging from China’s growing ambitions. compete with the United States. In his first foreign policy speech, President Biden expressed his determination to face China’s economic abuses; counter its aggressive and coercive action; to push back against Chinese attacks on human rights, intellectual property and global governance, while asserting that Washington was ready to work with Beijing when it was in the interests of the Americas to do so. The U.S. Department of Defense has also engaged in a department-wide China task force to re-examine a number of areas, including strategy, operational concepts, technology, and force posture in the aim to meet the challenge of China. China’s recalibration of policy in the Americas under President Biden appears to be moving towards a governmental and bipartisan approach, supported by strong alliances and partnerships. While critical of how the Trump administration has executed its tough stance on China, Secretary Blinken, in a recent interview with CNN, said: “ So I think in fairness to President Trump he was right to take a tougher approach on China. It was the right thing to do.
There appears to be a consensus within the Biden administration to adopt a strategy focused on treating China from a position of strength, whether it is to cooperate where possible or to confront the China in areas of contradictory and competitive nature. Putting Kurt Campbell, Obamas Asia’s pivotal policy architect at the helm of affairs on the Indo-Pacific strategy of the Americas, indicates a willingness to deal directly with China. In this context, the strategic understanding and cooperation between India and the United States with other like-minded countries becomes even more imperative. President Biden, in his telephone conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, agreed to increase bilateral cooperation to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific, including support for freedom of navigation, territorial integrity and a stronger regional architecture thanks to the Quad.
Whether Biden would be able to take a firm stand on China consistent with a hard-line bipartisan approach or continue with rhetorical criticism of China would become clearer over time. The United States would need to balance China across the entire global spectrum. If the United States shows any sign of a potential reduction in defense spending by the Bidens administration, it could prove detrimental to American interests at a time when China is stepping up its efforts to become a dominant power in Asia. It is high time that the United States began to believe in serious action against China, not just empty rhetoric.
Dr Arvind Kumar is Professor of American Studies at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. Dr Monish Tourangbam is Assistant Professor in the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal.
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