Joe Biden has used much of his administration’s early days to show that he will reverse a series of measures implemented by Donald Trump and usher in a new era in the United States. But there is a very strategic front on which the Democrat seems to be following the same path as his predecessor: the relationship with China.
Continuing tensions between Washington and Beijing were expected, but since arriving at the White House, Biden has shown signs that go even further. The Democrat has shown that some of the Trump administration’s most assertive policies should stand – if not enforced – when it comes to China.
The difference, say the experts, must remain in the form of the implementation of these measures, offset by a speech at least a little softer than that taken by the Republican.
With the promise to reposition the United States at the center of the multilateral debate, Biden must balance the renewal of alliances with the effort to stem the Chinese advance, in a historic rivalry exacerbated by the economic crisis and a pandemic that has killed more than 430,000 Americans.
Prior to Xi Jinping’s government, defense and trade are areas that should receive more attention from Biden, with a focus on restricting the expansion of Chinese technology around the world – a scenario that could have direct effects in Brazil, with the implementation of the 5G network.
Director of the University of Michigan International Institute, Mary Gallagher is an expert on Chinese politics and says Biden should support many of Trump’s measures on Asian power, including with support from the Republican Party. “The rhetoric will be softened, but the practice remains asserted,” he explains.
“In the Trump administration, policies on China were poorly executed, they were not well coordinated, because Trump was not a good leader […] Now, things will be less dispersed, less efficient and more realistic. “
Trump was aggressively and repeatedly attacking China as a way to distract from his mismanagement of the crisis during the pandemic – in addition to using an outside enemy to try to rally his supporters around his nationalist rhetoric and protectionist.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki reflected the new government’s tone on Beijing on Monday.
At a press conference, Biden’s aide used words like “allies” and “partners” to address the relationship with China, while saying that the Asian country’s conduct “hurts American workers” and requires a specific American approach.
“Strategic competition with China is a defining feature of the 21st century. China is engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, weakens our technological advantage, and threatens our alliances and influence in international organizations,” Psaki said.
“What we have seen in recent years is that China is becoming more and more authoritarian domestically and more assertively abroad and is seriously challenging our security, prosperity and values.”
Appointed by Biden, the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had already climbed several ranks by referring to China during a session in the Senate of the process that would confirm him in the post, even before his inauguration.
Austin said the Asian country “poses the greatest threat in the future as it is increasing” and stressed the need for the United States to respond more strongly to the technology.
He also said that the 2018 national defense strategy, signed by Trump, which presented China and Russia as serious threats, was “absolutely on track for today’s challenges.”
Head of US diplomacy, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was less aggressive and said China was the most important relationship for the United States.
Under Trump, the Americans tried to ban or at least limit the participation of the Chinese company Huawei in the 5G auction in Brazil – scheduled for this year – on the grounds that the company was passing sensitive information to the Chinese government. that threatens data security Brazil and cooperation with the United States.
Without giving details, Psaki suggested that Biden should keep Huawei and other Chinese companies under surveillance, as Trump did. The Democrat must also not oppose one of the latest measures of the Republican government, which has officially accused China of genocide against the Muslim minority in Xinjiang.
The Chinese government is criticized internationally for keeping Uyghurs in huge detention centers. In 2018, a UN team received complaints that at least 1 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities had been detained and said they had evidence of it.
Beijing denies allegations of abuse and says the sites are spaces for re-education, aimed at countering extremism and teaching new skills.
Author of a book on authoritarianism in China, Professor Gallagher says Biden’s performance must be supported by a significant portion of the American population, in whom anti-Chinese sentiment has grown in bipartisan fashion for decades – but now it has intensified under the economic crisis and pandemic.
“There is the protectionist Democratic wing, the far-right anticommunism among Republicans and evangelicals, focused on the issue of abortion and values.”
For her, Biden must not abandon protectionist measures in economic terms, in a nod to workers in the American Midwest, a region decisive in the conflict for the White House.
Since the election campaign, the Democrat has criticized what he calls China’s abusive business practices and, last week, signed an executive order to strengthen government guidelines to support domestic industry, as Trump had said. already done.
The years-long trade war with China cost the United States around 245,000 jobs, according to an estimate by Oxford Economics, in a report produced in partnership with the US-China Business Council, and failed to bring the benefits. that the Republican had promised the Americans. .
The first phase of the deal was signed by Trump in January of last year, and it’s still unclear how Biden will handle the remaining tariffs on the negotiations.
In the face of the pandemic and a crisis that has left millions unemployed, the new US president has Herculean internal problems, but his allies admit that finding a balance in relations with China is one of the great challenges of politics foreign, at a time when Asian power tries to occupy the post of global supplier to which the United States wishes to return.