By Richard Walker
Aside from some minor policy alterations, we will see the incoming Biden administration following President Donald Trump’s decision to put China in the crosshairs of America’s foreign objectives and strategies.
The only change Joe Biden is likely to make is to create a coalition of our allies to confront China on a range of fronts, both military and economic. The coalition will include our main allies in the region, including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam. As a result of policies adopted by the Trump administration, India will also be part of that coalition. It is being seen as a critical element in what is being referred to as the Indo-Pacific region. The big economic hammer President Biden hopes to bring to the table to remind China that is it not going to have free rein with its self-serving fiscal strategies is the European Union, which is the world’s biggest economic bloc. Britain will also be on board.
Mr. Biden has already made clear that he has no plans to remove the tariffs imposed on China in President Trump’s trade war with Beijing, though it is likely they will not remain in place too long. The tariffs, contrary to claims by President Trump that they were effective, resulted in American consumers paying a tax on Chinese goods entering the U.S. In other words, they were an added tax on every American. Reversing America’s pathetic, decades-long free-trade practices would take more than four years to fix, however.
But, tariffs aside, there is likely to be a seamless handover of policy from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. That is clear in the fact that Mr. Biden has already indicated that he will adopt his predecessor’s policy of defending American steel from cheap Chinese imports, and he will retain the Trump mechanisms in place to constrain China.
On the thorny question of Taiwan, President Trump put down a marker as one of his last policy moves to assure Taiwan that it still had an ally in Washington. He ordered Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador, to Taiwan on an official visit, a move that angered Beijing. But, at the last minute, the visit was called off by Pompeo, an outcome that suggested it had been nothing more than a ploy to ensnare the incoming president in a Taiwan policy. Nevertheless, the Biden administration will be inclined to support Taiwan because it has overwhelming congressional backing. In recent months, the small; Pacific island off China’s coastline has been under increasing pressure from the Chinese military. It has been filling the skies around Taiwan with fighter jets, surveillance planes, and bombers. The tactic has had a two-fold purpose. It wears down the smaller Taiwanese air force, which has to intercept those planes, and it enables the Chinese to assess Taiwan’s ability to defend against a full-blown invasion. By forcing Taiwan to constantly scramble fighters to meet incoming Chinese aircraft, China’s military is able to determine how long it would take for Taiwan to mount a defense against an air and ground assault. Given President Trump’s decision this past year to let China know Taiwan matters in Washington, it is likely Mr. Biden will fulfill promises by his predecessor to sell Taiwan more advanced military hardware.
Japan appears to think that President Biden will be no pushover for the Chinese. This assessment might be partly due to the fact that his predecessor has already left him a policy that has the backing of most members of Congress. The Chinese are not expecting Mr. Biden to cut them any slack, with leading Chinese figures saying that they are under no illusions about the new president.
Missing in much of the coverage of potential policy conflicts between President Trump and his successor is that Mr. Biden, and also Barack Obama, has experienced a conversion of sorts on the China issue since Donald Trump entered the White House. During the Obama-Biden presidency, Obama sought to establish a rapport with China and made the critical mistake of accepting assurances given by Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He promised Obama that he would not militarize islands in the South China Sea and then did just that. Obama now sees the error of his ways. One can conclude that Mr. Biden does, too. He is on record calling the Chinese leader a thug. Obama, in his recent book, lamented his failure to recognize the China threat during his time in office, pointing out that China blackmailed U.S. companies doing business in China to surrender key technologies, and that China broke “just about every rule of international commerce.” It could therefore be argued that Obama’s China policy was a strategic failure.
When Donald Trump took office, he did not see the light, either. Instead, he boasted about what a wonderful relationship he had with the Chinese leader. Even as late in his presidency as January 2020, he said they “loved” each other, but last spring he began to see the error of his ways, too. It now appears that they all learned the lesson of the dangers of trusting the Red Chinese. It may seem ironic to some, but while Obama and Trump might not agree on much, they are now on the same page, warning Biden to get tough on China.
Richard Walker is the nom de plume of a former New York mainstream news producer who grew tired of seeing his articles censored by his bosses.