US Vice President Joseph Biden will reportedly “take the lead” in the next phase of US policy toward China, which will almost certainly give Biden a major say in future US-Taiwan relations.
A senior White House official has confirmed the development to The Atlantic magazine.
According to the magazine, the “shift to a strategy of engagement with Biden at the top” was orchestrated by US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon.
Donilon has been holding the China portfolio since September 2010 with substantive input from teams working under US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and US Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.
According to the White House official, the move is in no way a criticism of Clinton and Geithner, but rather reflects the need to deal directly on the same status level this year with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) the likely to become the next president of China.
Xi’s accession to the presidency is expected to be formalized in October.
Biden held extensive meetings with Xi when he visited China in August and Biden was accompanied by Xi for most of the itinerary.
He later described Xi as “strong and pragmatic.”
According to several sources consulted by the Taipei Times, Xi will visit Washington early this year — probably late next month.
Biden hopes to build up his personal ties with Xi during that visit and relations with Taiwan — following the Jan. 14 presidential election — are sure to be near the top of the agenda.
Under the new arrangement, Biden will deal directly with Xi, while Clinton and Geithner’s teams — especially US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell — will continue their engagement with other Chinese leaders.
“The view of some of the administration’s China-handlers is that management of US-China policy has become so central to a vast array of other policy challenges that the administration’s approach needs to be both broad and managed with ‘a deep and senior bench,’” The Atlantic magazine says.
During this election year in the US, US President Barack Obama, who is seeking re-election, may not be able to spend as much time as in the past on foreign policy.
And while Obama will of course retain ultimate decisionmaking authority, Biden could be given remarkable power.
The Atlantic says that Biden has played a background role in foreign policy since the early days of the administration and that his “next big task will be the next phase evolution of US-China policy.”
Richard Fisher, a senior fellow on Asian Military Affairs with the International Assessment and Strategy Center, told the Taipei Times: “First and foremost this has to be viewed through the lens of the presidential campaign.”
“The administration correctly wants to fight a perception of weakness on China policy so it is asking a longtime serious player to take charge,” he said. “But there are risks; some of my friends wonder if the vice president is not being set up for a fall, given China’s record of having been a particularly nasty tar baby for so many careers.”
However, there is “great potential” for Biden to bring “much needed backbone” to the fore with his strong record of US Senate leadership on proliferation, human rights and Tibet, Fisher said.
“He [Biden] was instrumental in the creation of Radio Free Asia. Friends say he has demonstrated amply that he understands the awful truth of the regime in Beijing,” Fisher said.