During his first full month in charge, Joe Biden showed his Chinese counterpart that the 46th US President may prove less confrontational than the 45th, but the White House’s tough approach to Beijing and US China relations looks set to stay. This article is a summary of important US China news in February 2021.
After the turmoil of the Donald Trump years, and the trade war that defined the world’s key bilateral relationship, Xi Jinping hoped for a return to calmer times. Senior diplomat Wang Yi called for a reset in relations, if US policymakers “abandon biases” and “give up unwarranted suspicions”. China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, warned the US not to interfere in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and placed the blame for the deterioration in relations squarely on the US.
Washington accused Beijing of trying to avert blame for its actions. On trade, Katherine Tai, Biden’s USTR pick, backed tariffs as a “legitimate tool” to counter China’s state-driven economic model, and vowed to hold Beijing to its prior commitments. CIA director nominee William Burns called China “a formidable, authoritarian adversary” with “predatory” leadership posing America’s biggest geopolitical test.
Biden ordered a review of critical supply chains to reduce dependence on China. Beijing quickly dismissed as unrealistic efforts to shift US supply chains toward alternative sources. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer directed lawmakers to craft a package of measures to counter China’s rise and strengthen the US tech sector.
“America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden told European leaders at the Munich security conference, adding that the US and Europe must “prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China”. China will pay a price for its human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, he warned earlier.
The US Navy sent its first warship through the Taiwan Strait in the Biden era, and continued FONOPs in the South China Sea. US Senator Rick Scott and Congressman Guy Reschenthaler reintroduced the Taiwan Invasion Prevention Act (TIPA), a bill to authorise US military force if China attacks Taiwan.
In a two-hour call, the leaders of the world’s two largest economies exchanged Chinese New Year wishes – and moved onto tougher subjects. Biden said he “shared concerns about Beijing’s economic practices, human rights abuses, and coercion of Taiwan. I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people.” In addition to Taiwan, he namechecked Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Xi said that when the US and China work together, they can accomplish a great deal for the good of both countries and the world at large. Confrontation between the two countries, however, will definitely be disastrous for both countries and the world, he added, reported Xinhua. Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, are China’s “internal affairs” – the US should act prudently, Xi stressed.
In early February, Biden described China as the “most serious competitor” to the USA, and vowed “We’ll confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive actions, and push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance.” Yet when it comes to making money, there is much more that attracts than repels in the US’s strategic rivalry with China, reported the FT.