Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
May 13, 2023
First of all, President Biden has not formally announced his China Policy, even he has promised. So, it is difficult to understand what the goal of Biden’s calculated gamble is. Biden could be “aiming to appease allied nations and portray President Xi as uncooperative if he refuses.” However, President Xi and his diplomats have been very active receiving foreign dignitaries in China, visiting foreign capitals including, England, France, Germany, Australia etc. which are traditional US allies. President Xi has brokered a historical rapprochement between Saudi and Iran, he also is actively a peace maker for ending the Ukraine war. Thus, even if President Xi appears as uncooperative with Biden, no harms is done.
Of course, Biden administration broadcasted the calls China for opening lines of communication does show the world that the US is weak and being rebuked by the Chinese constantly. But Biden’s China team or the “China House” at the State Department, “without a China policy” could not offer a real agenda for these calls. Specifically:
- No wonder, Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the newly created China Select Committee, remains skeptical of the administration’s approach, arguing that it creates confusion in terms of the overall US strategy. If the US congress is not fully supporting President Biden’s actions, why China would invest her time/energy to “communicate” with Biden’s team?
- Defense Secretary Austin openly expressed frustration of not able to talk with his Chinese counterpart. But Austin has not expressed any concern over US generals repeatedly announce timelines that China is to invade Taiwan and the US military is ready to get in the action with China. So, what is there for the two defense ministers to talk about? Then the new Chinese Defense Minister, General Li, has been officially sanctioned by the US and bared from visiting the US. If General Li were to invite Secretary Austin to visit China, could Austin reciprocate the courtesy?
- Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and USTR Katharine Tai should talk with their counter parts on US-China bilateral trade disputes. But their actions and positions have been inflexible so much homework remains before any ministerial level meeting will happen.
- Treasure Secretary Yellen’s major headache is the US debt ceiling will top over by June 1, 2023. It is a US domestic issue with significant impacts on the global economy. But Biden and McCarthy, representing the Democratics and Republicans, are playing the game of chicken in DC. There is nothing that China can do about the US debt ceiling so there is no urgency for Yellen to visit China now.
- Special envoy John Kerry has been able to visit and work with his Chinese counterpart on global climate change issues. The real issue is if GOP wins the general election in 2024, then what? Will the next Republican administration follow Trump’s policy and leave the climate change agreement?
Jai Hamid – May 11, 2023
Biden’s calculated gamble with US-China relationship
The strategy has been met with skepticism by critics, who argue it makes the US appear weak, while others view it as a credible and genuine effort for engagement.
In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and China, President Joe Biden’s administration is employing a strategy involving proposals for meetings and phone calls at various levels of government, up to and including a conversation between Biden and President Xi Jinping.
Biden’s calculated strategy
The calculated strategy has been met with skepticism by critics who argue that it makes the US appear weak. However, others believe it demonstrates a genuine desire for engagement and presents a credible image to Europe and Asia.
Evan Medeiros, former senior director for Asia on the Obama National Security Council, described the strategy as a “smart but risky play.” He added that it could inadvertently reinforce China’s belief that the US needs them more, allowing them to dictate the US-China agenda.
In response to the US proposals, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China and the US do maintain communication lines. However, he also noted that the US cannot emphasize the importance of communication while simultaneously suppressing and containing China.
The Biden administration’s push for engagement began in earnest as controversy over an alleged Chinese spy balloon and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s visit to the US subsided.
Since then, the US has proposed calls and meetings with China’s senior leadership, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
Biden’s team is seeking to establish “guardrails” around a relationship facing deeper, more systemic strains around economic competition and China’s continued partnership with another US adversary, Russia.
Beijing has rejected US attempts to frame the relationship around “competition” and “guardrails,” with Foreign Minister Qin Gang stating that the intention is to “contain and suppress China in all respects.”
China’s tepid response
China has so far responded tepidly to the US requests. It has ignored Austin’s outreach for calls and hasn’t publicly responded to his request for a meeting on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.
China hasn’t even confirmed if Commerce Minister Wang Wentao will travel to Detroit for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, where Tai has suggested bilateral talks.
It remains unclear when Biden will speak with Xi, something the US president first mentioned in February. Dennis Wilder, the Central Intelligence Agency’s former deputy assistant director for East Asia and the Pacific, suggests that China may feel they have achieved a tactical upper hand in US-China diplomacy.
Despite the challenges, there are tentative signs that the relationship strains may be easing. Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang met US Ambassador Nicholas Burns in Beijing for the first time, a symbolic move that may indicate Beijing’s willingness to allow more senior-level discussions.
Representative Mike Gallagher, chair of the newly created China Select Committee, remains skeptical of the administration’s approach, arguing that it creates confusion in terms of the overall US strategy. Critics, like Gallagher, continue to complicate matters with criticism of China and trips to Taiwan.