Researchers from some of Washington, DC’s most influential foreign policy think tanks, including the Council on Foreign Relations and the Atlantic Council, have urged the Biden administration to modify, not scrap, Donald Trump’s "get tough" approach to Beijing on trade, suggesting that the Republican’s problem was his equal opportunity bashing of allies and adversaries alike, not the China policy itself.
“There’s just no getting around the fact that China is the primary geopolitical rival for the United States in the world right now,” Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the CFR told The Hill.
The CFR is a very powerful organisation whose membership includes Biden himself, Bill and Hillary Clinton, David Rockefeller Jr, Condoleezza Rice, Newt Gingrich, and dozens of other politicians, business moguls, media figures, and scientists.
“It doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of opportunities for mutual gain. But the somewhat naïve notion that China is going to be so invested in the global trade and economic order that it won’t seek to change it, nobody believes that in the United States anymore,” Alden added.
The researcher suggested Biden must “maintain a more competitive posture” against China in areas “vital” to US economic superiority, including aerospace and artificial intelligence, next-gen biotech and semiconductors.
Alden suggests Biden should work with allies to pressure China on trade in places like the World Trade Organisation, including by confronting it on its alleged illegal subsidisation of manufacturers to outcompete the US.
Beijing has denied any wrongdoing, and has suggested that it is the US side which engaged in an attack on fair competition and the "normal functioning of the market order" through things like technology blacklists and restrictions on trade under Trump.
Marie Kasperk, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, echoed Alden’s assessment on the need for allies’ support, suggesting Washington “can’t continue to go it alone if they really want to have a long-term effect here.”
The Atlantic Council is another of Washington DC’s most significant policy think tanks, promoting the concept of Transatlanticism, i.e. strong cooperation between the US, Canada and Europe on issues ranging from politics and economics to defence. Its members have included many members of US administrations, including Susan Rice, the former Obama National Security Advisor whom Biden has tapped for the Domestic Policy Council, as well as former ambassador to China and Russia Jon Huntsman, who was reportedly recently considered for a spot in the new administration.
Halie Craig, associate fellow from R Street Institute, a conservative think tank also headquartered in DC, suggested that the problem with Trump was that his trade policy was “very aggressive toward both allies and trading partners alike,” arguing that Biden needs to work to repair these ties. In any case, Craig said, bellicosity toward China is something both parties can support, with Beijing’s domestic politics in particular meaning that “everyone on both sides of the aisle wants to be seen right now as very tough on China.”
‘Time and Tide Wait for No Man’ – Chinese Proverb
Beijing has taken a cautious, wait-and-see approach to Biden, praising some of his cabinet picks, while continuing to assert its interests, recently passing a security bill enabling the country’s Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels in maritime territories in claims. The bill, passed just two days into Biden’s presidency, comes following years of US "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea.
On Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson held a telephone conversation with Biden, with a readout of the talks saying that the two leaders “discussed the need for coordination on shared foreign policy priorities, including China, Iran, and Russia.”
The same day, Pentagon officials assured Taiwan and Japan that the US would continue to “stand with friends and allies” in the Indo-Pacific region, including in disputed areas in the East and South China Sea. In a symbolic gesture, Taiwan, the island nation which China considers a breakaway province, was officially represented at Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday for the first time since 1979.
Last week, Biden pick for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, whom Chinese media recently characterised as a “consummate diplomat,” a “moderate and a globalist,” told Senate lawmakers that Trump was “right in taking a tougher approach to China,” saying only that he “very much” disagreed with the manner in which he did so.