DANIEL L DAVIS, 11 April 2021
Being “tough on China” is politically popular in Washington these days, and Biden has come out of the gate swinging against Beijing. But “being tough” isn’t a policy and reflexively applying it to China doesn’t serve U.S. interests. A logical and realistic approach to Beijing, however, can.
Obama’s “pivot to Asia” in 2011 opened a new chapter in Sino-American relations and turned an always challenging relationship even more tense. From the beginning of his administration, Trump characterized China in starkly adversarial terms, calculating domestic political advantage in starting a trade war. In the early months of the Biden term, it appears the new president has chosen to accelerate this deterioration in relations.
Days before the U.S.-China meeting in Anchorage, Washington slapped sanctions on 24 Chinese officials. When the two sides met in Alaska 48 hours later, the atmosphere was predictably acrimonious, with both sides using un-diplomatic language against the other. In the days that followed, the Administration took a series of actions Beijing considers provocative.
Last month, John Hennessey-Niland became the first sitting U.S. ambassador (to Palau) to visit Taiwan in 42 years, angering China, who viewed it as a violation of the “one China” provision of the Shanghai Communique the United States signed in 1972. This visit was followed by the U.S. officially declaring China’s treatment of the Uyghur Muslims a genocide. One day later, Washington confirmed it would renew Trump’s decision to deny Hong Kong special trading privileges because of the Chinese crackdown on human rights there.
This is not to suggest that the bad relations between Washington and Beijing is all America’s fault, however. Chinese President Xi Jinping has been no small factor in the deterioration. China has long been a currency manipulator, stolen U.S. intellectual property, been militarizing deserted islands in the South China Sea, has severely repressed freedoms in Hong Kong, engaged in an armed border clash with India, and continues to bully and threaten Taiwan. While there are a number of serious challenges involved in our relationship with China, it is crucial to understand what the disputes do not represent.