Understanding the Biden Administration’s Policy towards China

The 2020 US election has been one of the most debated and controversial in recent American history. This election – apart from focusing on the division of society at domestic level – had a primary focus on the growing US-China power competition, as all three presidential debates had a segment dedicated to China’s rise and its manoeuvre. Due to Trump’s aggressive rhetoric towards foreign policy, the inauguration of Joe Biden has brought a lot of speculations regarding how this administration will deal with Beijing. The potential of US policy towards China under the Biden administration is thus worth investigating.

The issue of countering China’s rise and its influence had been the frontline foreign policy initiative of the US under the Trump administration. The Biden administration has also signalled their strong foreign policy approach towards Beijing, starting by officially inviting Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, to Biden’s inauguration. This official invitation is for the first time and highlights a strategic shift in US policy towards the island nation, which is facing Beijing’s wrath since Tsai Ing-wen’s DPP first entered power. This initiative has sent a strong signal to China and – as pointed out by the spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council (NSC) – President Biden and the US will stand with its friends and allies to advance shared prosperity and security within the Asia-Pacific region, including Taiwan.

The Biden administration’s strong stand against Beijing can again be solidified its appointment of individuals, such as Kurt Campbell, to senior positions. Campbell had been the architect of America’s ‘pivot to Asia strategy’ under President Obama, will now be the coordinator for the Indo-Pacific at the NSC.  The appointment of Kurt Campbell is therefore of great geopolitical significance – having been a seasoned diplomat serving at key posts and is aware of the on-ground geopolitical situation in the region. The recent article authored by Campbell and Rush Doshi in the Foreign Affairs magazine strategises the methodologies required by the United States to recalibrate itself in the region.

In the article, Campbell and Doshi point out that Washington should adopt new military strategies which will help deter growing Chinese influence. They pointed out that ‘US should move away from use of expensive military platform like aircraft carrier’ and focus more on deterring China through inexpensive and asymmetric capabilities like ballistic missiles, submarines, and high-speed strike weapons. This development, as pointed by Campbell, will complicate Chinese calculations, and help re-evaluate Beijing’s risky provocations. Campbell also emphasised strengthening the US alliance in the region under the hub and spoke model. As he points out in his article, Campbell believes ‘the previous administration had undermined the US alliance in the Indo-Pacific’, especially when it attempted to pressurise South Korea and Japan into renegotiating the cost sharing of the US bases in the region. In addition, Campbell advocates the Quad alliance (US, Japan, India, and Australia) and likeminded nations to restrict the provocative rise of China by rejuvenating the US’s economic influence in the region – expressing that ‘the US should develop ways to provide financial and technical assistance’ to nations in the region as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The naming of Laura Rosenberger as the NSC’s Senior Director of China Policy also highlights the Biden administration’s strong China policy stand, especially with Rosenberger being a vocal critic of China’s propaganda on the coronavirus. She had previously served as director for China and Korea under the Obama administration and currently will report to Kurt Campbell. This clearly highlights the depth and extensive experience many of Biden’s foreign policy picks have in dealing with China. Therefore, it can be anticipated that the current administration will try to restore its losing economic foothold in the Indo-Pacific along with managing the growing Chinese military adventurism in the region.

However, it must be assumed that a zero-sum approach with Beijing will be detrimental for the prosperity of the entire region. China’s rise and economic might has made it a power which cannot be overlooked. It has also been mentioned by Campbell that it will not be practical and profitable to exclude Beijing from the regional structure, as none of the nations want to be forced to choose between any of the superpowers. Therefore, there should be a competitive but peaceful regional order that includes a place for Beijing. One of Biden’s major policy initiatives is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – which can never succeed if the US does not negotiate with China. Therefore, we can anticipate witnessing a US-China relation which will be a mixture of cooperation and competition as long as Biden is president.

Featured image credit: “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0