The relationship between the United States and China is leading to more confrontation – both because the topic is too important internally for Joe Biden to seek to “reset” the relationship, and because the U.S. president (and, in fact, virtually the entire spectrum) country) has serious objections to Beijing’s vision of how the world should be run.
In the short term, that means the two countries will continue to impose tariffs and sanctions on each other. The question, for the rest of the world, is to what extent the Biden administration will impose this aggressive US-China relationship on other countries, forcing them to choose between Beijing and Washington. Fortunately, the White House team is made up of pragmatic people.
Not so long ago, the Trump administration pressured other countries to remove Chinese equipment from their 5G networks. While some bowed to the pressure – notably the UK and other perennial US allies like Australia – the majority strategically avoided making this decision.
Unless you desperately need to stay in Washington’s good graces for some other important reason (the UK, for example, needs a free trade agreement and good trading relations with the states). United after Brexit), ally yourself with one of the world’s two economic superpowers. today, excluding the other is something to avoid and which limits your chances of playing with one or the other, depending on the geopolitical need of the moment. And there’s the fact that most developing countries don’t have the luxury of being able to turn down the money and technology offered by Beijing (largely thanks to the New Silk Road initiative) to improve lives. of its citizens. If Washington demands that doing business with the United States demands that no business be done with China, it risks ceding much of the world to Beijing – the opposite of what it must do at this critical geopolitical time. .
Biden’s team is aware of this; he’s more in tune with other countries’ view of the United States than the Trump administration was, and understands the limitations of trying to force countries to make these tough decisions. Instead, it brings America back to the fundamental tenet of capitalism: competition. Washington’s ultimate goal is to “competitively coexist” with China in as many countries as possible, to ensure that none of them fully enter Beijing’s orbit.
The United States recognizes the need to compete with China in distributing resources and investments to the countries that need them most – and in Latin America, Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, these countries are also courted by Beijing. These countries don’t always do what Washington asks them to do in such a competitive environment, but neither is it guaranteed that they will do what China asks them to do.
Following this policy of “competitive coexistence” will be a challenge. China is a state economy; this means that Beijing is able to employ and target companies and resources more effectively in ways that directly benefit the country’s national interests. But the United States still has a lot to offer if it acts strategically to distribute foreign aid and incentives to private companies to invest in projects in important countries. And the United States can also use its influence to put pressure on multilateral institutions like the IMF to grant loans on favorable terms and with more transparent financing than the loans offered by the Chinese (not to mention the additional benefit of strengthening these multilateral institutions in the process itself). We have already seen countries start to move away from some New Silk Road projects, a sign that some beneficiary countries have started to react negatively to the costly conditions demanded by Beijing to build projects generally of lower quality than the supported alternatives. by the West.
US sectors that take a hard line on China will oppose the idea of the United States directing its money to countries that also do business with the Chinese. But that’s not the right way to think about confrontation.
The Biden administration is confident in the ability of the United States to compete with China internationally, using the unique strengths of the United States. More importantly, she recognizes that it is in the long-term best interests of the United States to show the world why it is better to partner with Washington rather than Beijing, and not simply demand that it do it.
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