The 2020 US Presidential Election was one of the most debated and controversial in the recent American history. Beyond the issue of the division of society at a domestic level, a primary focus of the election was the growing Sino-US power competition, with all three presidential debates containing a segment dedicated to the rise of China and the response to it. Given President Trump’s rhetoric towards China, speculation has been rife as to how a Biden administration will deal with Beijing.
The issue of countering China’s rise and influence was at the forefront of US foreign policy during the Trump administration. The Biden administration has also signalled in numerous ways that it will keep the issue front and center of foreign policy. The administration has started out by extending an official invitation to Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim to Joe Biden’s inauguration. This official invitation is a historic first, and highlights a strategic shift in US policy towards the island nation, which is facing Beijing’s wrath since Tsai Ing Wen’s DPP came to power. The initiative has sent a strong signal to China that President Biden intends to stand with its friends and allies to advance shared prosperity and security in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Biden administration’s strong stand against Beijing will likely also be solidified with the appointment of Kurt Campbell as a senior members of the current administration. Mr. Campbell was the architect of America’s ‘Pivot to Asia strategy’ under President Obama, and will now be the coordinator for Indo-Pacific at the National Security Council (NSC). Campbell’s appointment is of particular geopolitical significance given that he is a seasoned diplomat who has served in key roles, and has deep familiarity with geopolitical situation on the ground in the region. A recent article authored by Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi in Foreign Affairs strategizes the methods which the United States should use to ‘recalibrate itself’ in the region.
In the article, Campbell and Doshi point out that Washington will need to adopt new military strategies to deter growing Chinese influence, and that the “US should move away from use of expensive military platform[s] like aircraft carrier[s]” and focus more on deterring China through inexpensive and asymmetric capabilities such as the “ballistic missile, submarines and high strike weapons”. Such as approach would be expected to complicate Chinese calculations and should force Beijing to revaluate its risky provocations. They also emphasise the importance of strengthening US alliances in the region under the ‘hub and spoke model’. According to the authors, “the previous administration … undermined the US alliance in the Indo-Pacific”, specifically by pressurizing South Korea and Japan into renegotiating the cost sharing framework for US military bases in the region. Attention was also paid to the new QUAD alliance of likeminded nations intended to restrict the rise of China. Finally, the authors stressed the importance of rejuvenating US economic influence in the region, and opined that “the US should develop ways to provide financial and technical assistance” to regional partners as an alternative to China’s BRI.
In a similar vein, the naming of Laura Rosenberger as Senior Director for China at the NSC suggests that the Biden administrations is unlikely to be too accommodating of China, as Ms. Rosenberger has proven to be a vocal critic of China’s propaganda on coronavirus. Rosenberger previously served as Director for China and Korea in the Obama administration, and will report to Kurt Campbell. Her appointment highlights the deep experience of dealing with China of many of Biden’s foreign policy picks. Therefore, it may be anticipated that the Biden administration will focus on attempting to restore its lost economic foothold in the Indo-Pacific, while seeking to manage growing Chinese military adventurism.
A zero-sum approach to Beijing will likely prove detrimental for the prosperity of the region. China’s geopolitical rise and economic might make it a power to be reckoned with regardless of US foreign policy approaches. In Kurt Campbell’s view, the exclusion of Beijing from regional structures is neither practical nor profitable, as none of the countries in the region want to be forced to choose between the two superpowers. In consequence, there is a need for a competitive, but peaceful regional order, with a place for Beijing in the regional institutions.
One of Joe Biden’s major policy initiatives is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it is patently obvious that no progress can be made on this front unless China is brought on board. In conclusion, therefore, we may anticipate that Sino-American relations will be characterised by a mixture of cooperation and competition under a Joe Biden administration.
Soumyodeep Deb is currently working as a Research Assistant at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. Prior to this, he completed a Masters in International Affairs at Lingnan University, and a Masters in East Asian Studies at the University of Delhi. His work focuses on issues ranging from China’s foreign and security policy and Chinese politics, to China-India relations and the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific region.
This article was first published in The Jackdaw Post.
Picture: […] U.S. Vice President Joe Biden raises his glass to toast Chinese President Xi Jinping at a State Luncheon in the Chinese President’s honour at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on September 25, 2015. Public domain.