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Sunday, July 11, 2021, 10:05 (GMT+7)
Trends in the relations between the U.S. and China during the presidency of Joe Biden

The relations between the U.S. and China play a decisive role in the world’s economic, political and military picture. During the presidency of Joe Biden, the diplomatic tie between the two countries has been forecasted to remain strategically competitive but more comprehensive and systematic than in the period of former President Donald Trump’s rule.

An ideological conflict

The Donald Trump’s Administration ever considered ideological issues as the nature of the competition between the U.S. and China. Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo compared this competition with the ideological war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. That standpoint still exists amongst US leaders during the presidency of Joe Biden. Both Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden believe that the world is undergoing profound transformations within only a century which could be seen as a historic turnaround. However, the definition of that “historic turnaround” by the two countries are totally different. Chinese President Xi Jinping advocates a world order in which all countries could build a “community of common destiny for mankind” together and confidently claim that opportunities and motivations are all on China’s side. Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden is determined to maintain the world order controlled by America and states that democracy will and has to win. In his speech on the country’s foreign policy at the U.S. Department of State Headquarters on February 4th, 2021, President Joe Biden said that “American leadership must meet this new moment of advancing authoritarianism, including the growing ambitions of China to rival the United States and the determination of Russia to damage and disrupt our democracy.” At the high-level meeting between US and Chinese officials on the 18th and 19th of March, 2021 in Alaska, the new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his profound concern about China’s persecutions against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, Hong Kong’s suppression of democracy, and Beijing’s increasingly autocratic approach to Taiwan. According to the U.S. Secretary of State, those actions are threatening the rules-based world order aimed at maintaining stability on a global scale. In addition, the U.S. regards the leadership by the Communist Party of China over the state under the “Chinese model” as a challenge to democracies all over the world. Meanwhile, Beijing always affirms that the competition between America and China is not an ideological conflict. Addressing the  Boao Forum for Asia, Chinese President Xi Jinping urged countries to maintain cooperation and relinquish the ideological confrontation. Apparently, China hopes to avoid a conflict that is difficult to control between the two discordant political regimes.

A trade and technology war

President Joe Biden’s Administration shows no intention of abolishing the trade war against China launched by former President Donald Trump. It has even developed a more comprehensive and systematic strategy in response to Beijing’s economic and commercial acts that have been considered coercive and unfair by Washington. In early March, 2021, the Office of the United States Trade Representative released the trade policy agenda of 2021. According to this document, China is causing damage to the U.S. labour, threatening Washington’s technological advantages, undermining the domestic supply chain’s resilience and America’s national benefits, forcing technological transfer, illegally violating the U.S. intellectual property rights, and restricting and censoring the digital economy on the Internet. Washington has also criticised Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan, adding that the plan would be very dangerous for the U.S. and the whole world as China’s primary goal would be gaining control of the bigger global market share in 10 strategic fields. However, China remains calm and continues the trade war with America. The reason is that China is now the world largest exporter and possesses a huge attraction in economic cooperation. At the same time, Beijing is sustaining its economic growth, reducing its dependence on the foreign market, and using the domestic market as a “magnet” to attract international investors together with technological transfer. With its strength, China is completely confident of a long-term trade war against the United States.

In addition to the trade war, the technology war between the U.S. and China during the presidency of Joe Biden also develops in a new direction. A part from its unilateral efforts, the U.S. is forging an alliance of leading democratic countries in the field of technology to prevent China’s technological rise, with a focus on containing Beijing’s development in semiconductor, artificial intelligence, 5G network, and future 6G technology. Simultaneously, Washington is seeking ways to launch a competition with a combination of ideology and technology so as to build up the U.S. leading role in “technological democracy.”

A geo-political competition

China always claims that its Eastern border stretches to the Pacific Ocean, including the island of Taiwan as a “separatist province,” Vietnam’s Truong Sa and Hoang Sa archipelagos, and the  islands of Diaoyu or Senkaku called by China and Japan respectively. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden’s Administration completely opposes China’s claims, determinedly ensures security of Japan and the Philippines according to the signed agreements, and protects Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act passed by the United States Congress in 1979. Therefore, warships and aircraft of the U.S. and China are always present, face one another, and remain ready for combat in the East China Sea and the East Sea. Both Washington and Beijing  are determined to safeguard what they consider to be their strategic interests in the region. While Beijing always proves its capabilities in occupying and protecting these seas from possible counter-attacks launched by Japan, Taiwan or the U.S., Washington always negates the legality of China’s sovereign claims and assures the entire world and particularly its allied countries that China will not be able to realise these absurd claims even when Beijing adopts military measures.

As the U.S. national synergy tends to decrease, President Joe Biden’s Administration is hurriedly implementing multilateralism and closely cooperating with its allies in putting more comprehensive pressure on China. Up to now, the President Joe Biden’s Administration has made three moves to compete with Beijing. Firstly, it has reactivated the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue including the U.S., Japan, India, and Australia, aiming at Southeast Asia countries to buffer China’s influence in this region. Secondly, it has induced its allied countries to establish an alliance of democratic and technological states in order to place Beijing under more considerable pressures. Thirdly, it has proposed the building of initiatives on infrastructural development with Western countries to directly compete with China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative. According to many politicians, it seems that the U.S. lacks measures to respond to China’s increasing geo-political influence. In the report released on March 23rd, 2021, former U.S. trade official Jennifer Hillman confirmed that via the “Belt and Road” Initiative, China is expanding its power on a global scale and even exercising a greater influence than Washington in Africa and Asia. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the U.S. ever adopted strategic, economic and political measures to build mechanisms of partnership, orientate finance, execute projects of cooperation in construction, and strongly promote investment in infrastructural development in the Indo-Pacific Region, with a view to comprehensively dealing with the “Belt and Road” Initiative. Following Trump’s measures, President Joe Biden’s Administration is encouraging free trade links with its allied countries and partners, especially with small states that easily suffer pressures from China. On March 22nd, 2021, the White House  announced  the “Small and Less Populous Island Economies (SALPIE) Initiative to regulate the process of cooperation with island nations and territories in the Caribbean region, North Atlantic Ocean, and Pacific Ocean, with the aim of settling the humanitarian crisis consequences, promoting economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic, responding to climate change, increasing cooperation within international organisations, and fighting against China’s influence.

It is worth noting that on April 20th, 2021, the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Strategic Competition of 2021 to confront China in various areas. With nearly 300 pages, the Act includes many issues, from implementing the diplomatic strategy, deploying military forces, and  competing for values to containing China’s “predatory international economic acts” and increasing the U.S. competiveness. This is the first time senators from both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have advocated an act against China together after President Joe Biden had announced a comprehensive competition with Beijing. After being ratified by President Joe Biden, that Act could be seen as a “platform” for the U.S. to comprehensively confront China in the upcoming decades.

Meanwhile, China considers tensions with the U.S. as a long-term new normal state. To compete with Washington, Beijing is implementing the dual-cycle development strategy, sustaining economic growth in the years to come, increasing domestic demands and foreign trade, and satisfying the requirements set by a new development period. Under the dual-cycle development model, domestic and foreign markets consolidate each other, with the domestic market playing a pivotal role. Moreover, China attaches importance to maintaining external links and especially its “Belt and Road” Initiative, while encouraging and protecting the domestic economic system to achieve a balance between internal development and foreign trade.

In spite of the fact that the U.S. and China are cooperating with each other in responding to global challenges, from climate change to the COVID-19 pandemic, generally speaking, the relations between the two countries are developing towards tension, competition, and possibly a “new cold war. Hence, the international community hopes that the two sides will quickly seek solutions to make concessions to each other, settle differences, promote cooperation, and maintain a world of peace, stability, and development.

PHAM BINH

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