Devising an effective strategy to compete, cooperate and coexist with China would be one of US president-elect Joe Biden’s toughest foreign-policy challenges. Over the next two months, Sino-US relations are almost certain to worsen.
On the eve of the election, US President Donald Trump openly blamed China for the COVID-19 pandemic that was going to doom his chances for a second term and made thinly veiled threats. Now that he is about to exit the White House, Trump will likely approve more punitive measures to vent his anger and to bind the hands of Biden’s incoming administration.
Even if China refrains from responding in kind to Trump’s parting shots, some of which might be too painful or humiliating for it to swallow, the US-China relationship that Biden inherits could be damaged beyond repair.
Given the strong antipathy toward China among much of the US political establishment and the public alike, Biden is unlikely to change the fundamental tenets of Trump’s China policy. China would remain the US’ foremost geopolitical adversary, and containing its rise would be the organizing principle of US foreign policy for the foreseeable future.
However, the Biden administration’s China policy would also differ substantially from Trump’s zero-sum “America First” approach.
Biden’s strategic calculation is that the Sino-US conflict would be a decades-long marathon whose outcome will depend first and foremost on whether the US can sustain and strengthen its competitive advantages: economic dynamism, technological innovation and ideological appeal.
Besides rallying traditional US allies, Biden would focus on strengthening the US at home by addressing its dilapidated infrastructure, inadequate base of human capital, and underfunded research and development.
Moreover, whereas the Trump administration sees no room for cooperation with China, the Biden administration would regard mutually beneficial collaboration on issues such as climate change, pandemics and nuclear nonproliferation as both desirable and essential.
Biden’s focus on fashioning a more nuanced and sustainable long-term China strategy would bring about an immediate and welcome pause in the Sino-US cold war.
It is also in his short-term political interest to de-escalate or even end Trump’s trade dispute, because the US economy needs all the help it can get to climb out of its pandemic-induced slump.
Ironically, although China’s leaders have likewise concluded that they are locked in an open-ended conflict with the US, de-escalating bilateral tensions is in their short-term political interest, too.
China apparently believes that time is on its side, because its economy would continue to grow faster than the US’ in the coming decade, gradually shifting the overall balance of power in its favor. For now, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) main priority is to avoid a further escalation of tensions with the US, while his country is in a position of relative weakness.
Although Biden and Xi’s short-term interests might be aligned, achieving a comprehensive reduction in US-China tensions will require both of them to invest a modest amount of political capital and demonstrate their willingness to stabilize bilateral ties.
The lowest-hanging fruit relates to culture. China should readmit the US journalists it expelled in the spring, a step taken to retaliate against US restrictions on Chinese journalists. China should further commit to giving US reporters longer-term visas and greater freedom to work inside the country, with the US reciprocating by rescinding the curbs it placed on state-owned Chinese news organizations.
Reopening consulates would be another positive step.
In late July, the US ordered China to close its consulate in Houston, citing unspecified economic espionage activities. In response, China shuttered the US consulate in Chengdu.
Such tit-for-tat tactics needlessly intensified mutual antagonism. Rectifying this mistake and reversing these decisions would benefit both countries.
Next, the US and China should underscore their readiness to cooperate on climate change.
China’s top climate negotiator and the new US climate envoy, former US secretary of state John Kerry, should arrange a meeting to reaffirm each country’s commitment to the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and to explore potential joint initiatives to inject new momentum into global efforts to combat climate change.
A thornier issue is Taiwan, which has re-emerged as a potential Sino-US military flashpoint.
China would undoubtedly press Biden to reaffirm the US’ adherence to the “One China” policy, but the Biden administration should also demand that China tone down its threats against Taiwan, and reiterate its preference for a peaceful resolution of the nation’s status.
With appropriately choreographed diplomacy, a realistic compromise could result in reduced tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
The biggest obstacle to a more stable US-China relationship is the trade despite. In January, the two countries concluded a “phase one” trade agreement that temporarily paused, but did not end, the worst trade conflict in recent memory.
If Trump does not abrogate the deal before he leaves office, Biden and Xi should immediately restart talks to avert a looming catastrophe — namely, the impossibility of China meeting the Trump administration’s demand that it purchase an additional US$200 billion worth of US goods and services over the two-year period from this year to next year.
A realistic solution might require a more comprehensive phase-two agreement that extends the timeframe for China to fulfill its purchase commitment and pledge structural reforms that were left out of the phase one deal.
This modest roadmap might not alter the trajectory of the Sino-US great-power conflict, but by demonstrating their willingness to cooperate despite their fundamental differences, Biden and Xi can reassure the international community that cooler heads have prevailed in both countries.
Pei Minxin is a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and a nonresident senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
If social media interaction is any yardstick, India remained one of the top countries for Taiwan last year. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has on several occasions expressed enthusiasm to strengthen cooperation with India, one of the 18 target nations in her administration’s New Southbound Policy. The past year was instrumental in fostering Taiwan-India ties and will be remembered for accelerated momentum in bilateral relations. However, most of it has been confined to civil society circles. Even though Taiwan launched its southbound policy in 2016, the potential of Taiwan-India engagement remains underutilized. It is crucial to identify what is obstructing greater momentum
In terms of the economic outlook for the semiconductor industry, Taiwan has outperformed the rest of the world for three consecutive years. This is quite rare. In addition, Taiwan has been playing an important role in the US-China technology dispute, and both want Taiwan on their side, reflecting the remaking of the nation’s semiconductor industry. Under the leadership of — above all — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the industry as a whole has shifted from a focus on capacity to a focus on quality, as companies now have to be able to provide integration of hardware and software, as well as
US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific region will have huge repercussions for Taiwan. The US Department of State in the final weeks of former US president Donald Trump’s term took several actions clearly aimed to push Biden’s foreign policy to build on Trump’s achievements. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the final day of the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang was welcome, but comes far too late. The recent dropping of “self-imposed” restrictions on meetings between Taiwanese and US officials was
In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend. On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei. The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65. Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in