China – Joe Biden’s Approach

Picture of Joe Biden and Xi Jinping

By: T. Jeffersonian

Wednesday, February 11, 2021, apparently was “China Day” in the new Biden Administration. In addition to being the eve of the Chinese New Year, two significant events unfolded from the Biden Administration toward China. These two events were: (1) the first phone call between President Biden and President Xi Jinping, and (2) the announcement of the creation of a Department of Defense (DOD) Task Force on China.

The Phone Call

For the first time since taking office, President Joe Biden spoke with Chinese President Xi Jinping by phone on Wednesday evening, February 10, 2021. During the call, Biden raised fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices. In addition to specifically pointing out the human rights violations in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, they talked about China’s increasingly assertive actions in the region namely toward Taiwan. The two leaders also discussed countering the Covid-19 pandemic and the shared challenges of global health security, climate change, and weapons proliferation. Xi Jinping stressed, however, that issues relating to Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang were part of China’s internal affairs and urged America to respect this and act cautiously.

Following the conversation, White House officials said the call was aimed at signaling a new U.S. strategy that maintains a core tenet of the Trump administration’s policy — intense competition — but takes a dramatically different approach.  

The DOD Task Force

President Joe Biden announced the formation of a DOD China Task Force to provide a baseline assessment of department policies, programs, and processes regarding the challenge China poses. The Task Force’s key focus is to develop countermeasures for China’s hostile posture.  Defense officials described the Task Force as a “sprint effort” that will examine high-priority topics including strategy, operational concepts, technology, force structure, posture, management, and intelligence. The Task Force will also examine U.S. alliances, partnerships and their impact on Sino-American relations and DOD relations with China.

The 15-member Task Force will come from a swath of the other departments and will include the Office of the Secretary of Defense Staff, the Joint Staff, the military service branches, the combatant commanders, and representatives from the intelligence community.

The Task Force will also speak with interagency partners to ensure the defense response is aligned with the larger approach the President wants toward China.

Rationalization

For now, Biden doesn’t plan to lift tariffs on China that were imposed by the Trump administration. Biden will likely take time deciding on tariffs after extensive consultation with agencies across his administration and with U.S. partners in the Indo-Pacific and European regions. The Biden team did say that there will be upcoming changes to the trade policy towards China, but in the meantime the tariffs will stay in place.

Joe Biden’s team has looked at what the Trump administration did over four years and found merit in Trump’s intense strategic competition with China. They also have realized  the need for the United States to engage in that competition vigorously, systematically, and across every instrument of our government. The Biden team has taken deep issue with the means the Trump administration  engaged in this competition with China.

Reportedly, the difference in Biden’s approach will put an emphasis on engaging with U.S. allies, both in Europe and in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden himself has said that he intends to follow the international rules of the road while implementing his new China policies. President Biden is expected for example, to attend international forums for countries in the region, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the East Asia Summit. In contrast to his predecessor, President Trump forwent attending the ASEAN summit  after his first year in office because he did not see any results coming from it or similar organizations.

Placing further restrictions on China’s ability to access certain sensitive technologies is one of many objectives President Biden intended to put an emphasis on, in addition to the already in place Trump policies. Additionally, all new technology-based export restrictions are expected to be coordinated with U.S. allies.

Finally, Biden is also unlikely to reduce the U.S. military presence in the Indo-Pacific region, continuing Donald Trump’s previous posture in the area. America’s security partners have expressed concern about recent U.S. actions, such as the unpredictability of the Trump administration and its relationship with North Korea. It is unlikely that President Biden will resume the direct confrontation with North Korea because doing so would be seen as a step backward from his predecessor’s successes. 

Analysis

Whenever you hear the words “task force creation”  or “need to conduct a study,” according to government officials, the takeaway should be an understanding that the originating organization is only stalling on an issue deemed to be unimportant.  Another understanding is that the government officials using these terms want to be perceived  as doing something, but not be tied to producing results against a set timeline.

When you look into the organizational structure of the Pentagon, the office of the Combatant Commanders, the Armed Services, or the Service Secretaries, all of them already have China-related task forces. Now, they have created an additional 15-member DOD Task Force to plow the same ground, waste more time, and waste more taxpayer dollars only to give off the perception of doing something about the problem at hand. We know the answer to the China problem and that answer is competition across all instruments of national power – economic, diplomatic, information, intelligence, and military.

During the Obama administration, the United States competed solely through Military might. The United States will indeed sail, fly, and operate wherever international law rules.  China in the meantime will build more ships, more planes, more missiles, and more ordnance until they have more than enough to convince themselves that they can win a military conflict with the United States. When that time arrives, China will invade Taiwan.

Under President Trump, the United States competed across all the instruments of national power.  It was specifically the economic competition that revealed serious flaws in China’s perceived strengths.  Through economic competition, China had less money and because they had less money, their military equipment acquisition processes slowed. We were tangibly, measurably deterring conflict. After COVID-19’s induced global economic shutdowns, China was the only developed country to report economic growth. China is back on pace to continue major military acquisitions.

We might have defensive alliances with numerous countries around the globe, but this does not mean that we have economic alliances that prohibit these countries from trading with China. Allied politicians and business leaders have zero loyalty in peacetime when it comes to making a profit and creating jobs in their own countries. When their economies are performing, those foreign politicians stay in power just like American politicians would stay in power. If our allies can make a buck and create a job from trading with China, they will do it. If our allies can make a dollar or create a job by taking one from the United States, they will do it.

Our allies need us for security. Our allies need China to improve economic strength.. As a result, the Biden administration will have great willingness to cooperate for the sake of security, but will be met with difficulty on the economics. Our allies, in turn, will simply profess to be onboard with the U.S. plan after consideration via economic “Task Forces” and “studies”

In response to China, Biden is also trying out some pet projects in regards to the domestic economy. All of these projects will be funded by United States tax revenue. Today, President Biden warned that China is going to eat our lunch if we do not get moving on United States infrastructure. He mentioned bullet trains. There are many reasons why the United States does not have bullet trains. Rail gauges and networks for moving significant freight. Major airlines that are faster.

The United States is a group of small self governing states that individually have sovereignty and can say how the federal government can build common infrastructure across state borders. Our federal infrastructure has fallen into disrepair because Congress appropriates money for other projects such as Obamacare, tax relief, war, stimulus, pandemic relief, etc. Our government officials kick the infrastructure can down the road, just like they kick the climate change can down the road, in order to pay for these other projects now because those projects keep American political parties in power. 

Lastly, Joe Biden professes to know Xi Jinping because they were Vice Presidents at the same time and because they met several times. Last week, Joe Biden said that Xi Jinping does not have a democratic bone in his body. President Biden’s observation is a correct one, but Joe Biden does not know Xi Jinping personally. Joe Biden actually underestimates Xi Jinping. President Xi is the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, and he has a lifetime term in office. He ambitiously wants a legacy associated with reunification. He’s got Hong Kong! He’s got Xinjiang! Other than sanctioning him, there is nothing short of war that we can do about the humanitarian crises in Hong Kong or western China. Xi wants Taiwan and he is deliberately preparing to take it. Joe Biden is intent on keeping power.

Xi Jinping is intent on taking more power.  Joe Biden is a politician. Xi Jinping has never had to be a politician. No task force, no study is going to deter Xi’s ambition for reunification and domination across the globe. Only American strength across all the instruments of national power can stop Xi Jinping. Joe Biden’s Scranton PA tough guy routine is quite simply a political act. It is political sleight of hand meant to distract our adversaries and our voters alike. Task forces and studies are political acts. Task forces and studies are political sleights of hand. Xi Jinping is not looking at Joe Biden’s hands. He is looking directly into Joe Biden’s eyes and Xi Jinping is not blinking.