05.07.2021 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

How Different is Biden’s China Strategy from Trump’s?


The Joe Biden administration has been withdrawing its troops, missile defense systems and fighter jet squadrons from the Middle East for past few months to focus more on southeast Asia to deal with what the Pentagon calls the US’ “number one enemy”, China. With the Biden administration, which came into power promising to start a new era of relations with China and end the Trump administration’s ‘trade war’, has not only adopted the underlying logic of the previous administration, but intensified it in many significant ways. Not only is the US more willing to offer countries in southeast Asia more weapons to help them deal with the ‘China threat’, but is revamping and re-organising the Pentagon to better equip it to compete with the biggest threat to the US hegemony. Almost three weeks earlier, the Pentagon’s China Task Force completed its “review of the US’ China policy.” Lloyd Austin, current chief of the US Department of Defense (DoD), said that the purpose of this “review” was to allow them to “better address the security challenges posed by China as the United States’ number one pacing challenge.”

While most of the recommendations – some of which will remain classified – involve streamlining and strengthening “cooperation with US allies and partners, particularly in the Indo-Pacific”, the DoD is also going to review joint warfighting concepts as well as professional military education to focus on competition with China. The decision to revise US’ traditional operational concepts has been taken in view of some particular findings of the task force with regards to how China is operating globally.

The steps the Joe Biden administration has taken and is taking unambiguously indicate that the current administration is not only a lot more deeply committed to tackling China, indicating the rising ‘Sinophobia’ in the US “deep state”, but is more willing to expand the ‘trade war’ to essentially geo-political and geo-strategic arenas.

The US State department recently cleared a multi-billion-dollar arms package to the Philippines. If approved, the US$2.43 billion deal would be the largest of its kind in the history of the two allies, marking a dramatic elevation in bilateral defense cooperation, and potentially irking China in the south China sea region especially.

At the same time, the Biden administration has re-started trade and investment talks with Taiwan that were suspended during the Trump administration, with the latter even hoping for a free trade agreement with the US. While the Chinese officials have called out the US for violating the mutually agreed terms of engagement for relations between Washington and Taiwan, many in the US see this as an indispensable strategic necessity in view of the continuously deteriorating US-China ties/ That the Joe Biden administration has revived talks that had been suspended by the previous administration shows that the new government is keen to not only build upon Trump’s legacy of confrontation with China, but to intensify it as a means to broaden the essential framework of tussle with China.

This is also evident from the Joe Biden administration’s recent additions to the list of Chinese companies with supposed links to the Chinese military. An executive order that Biden signed in June brought to 59 the total number of Chinese companies banned from receiving American investment. The order stems from what Biden called,

“the threat posed by the military-industrial complex of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its involvement in military, intelligence, and security research and development programs, and weapons and related equipment production under the PRC’s Military-Civil Fusion strategy.  In addition, I find that the use of Chinese surveillance technology outside the PRC and the development or use of Chinese surveillance technology to facilitate repression or serious human rights abuse constitute unusual and extraordinary threats, which have their source in whole or substantial part outside the United States, to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and I hereby expand the scope of the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13959 to address those threats.”

Biden’s threat assessment is a policy that once again shows the Democrats are essentially continuing the war started by the Republicans. Indeed, as reports in the western media have shown, China is probably one of the issues that has bipartisan support in the US and is most likely to continue to receive this support, particularly from the Republicans who still think that the administration’s efforts are insufficient. “China’s effort to gain strategic influence across the globe is well known…Despite all this President Biden’s [fiscal 2022] budget proposal severely underfunds the Department of Defense, potentially jeopardizing our efforts to counter Chinese aggression around the world,” said a Republican Senator from Alabama Richard Shelby at a recent hearing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “What’s the message to the world if you’re cutting defense in the time of a challenge like this”, he added further.

It is, however, obvious that the Biden administration has more in the offing than the Trump administration, as the new administration’s policy is more diverse and multifaceted. “We see this [banning more Chinese companies] is one action in the sort of broader sweep of steps we are taking to strengthen our approach to competing with China and to countering its actions that are against our interests and our values,” told a US official to reporters in the White House.

The Biden administration, which claimed to be different from the erratic and unpredictable Trump administration, has defied all the predictions that many made with regards to a possible ‘new era’ of cooperation between the US and China post-Trump era. By essentially continuing the war-path laid down by his predecessor, Biden’s policies reveal how ‘Sinophobia’ is now the most important structural feature of the US geo-politics. Structural and conceptual changes being made in the light of the policy review completed by the China Task Force indicate how the US state is adapting itself against a country that has, far from projecting confrontation, only been emphasising a shared destiny for the mankind, showing how the US is fundamentally pursuing a path that may help it ensure its survival as a hegemon.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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