Biden’s China Policy Is Confused, Lacks Effectiveness on the Ground, Analysts Say

By Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya
Reporter
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.
September 5, 2022 Updated: September 7, 2022

News Analysis

It took the Biden administration an entire year to articulate its China policy, and in the meantime, the White House has continued with former President Donald Trump’s policy and claims that it has bipartisan support. The policy has been in the news recently following House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) visit to Taiwan, which prompted escalated military responses from the Chinese Communist Party.

The recent enacting of the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, a measure meant to help the United States compete with China in semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research and development, has drawn criticism from some Republicans for not achieving that purpose and has further opened the administration’s China approach to scrutiny.

Foreign policy analysts affiliated with institutions in different parts of the world, including those from U.S.-allied countries, expressed a range of opinions on the administration’s China policy in comments to The Epoch Times.

They agree only on one point: President Joe Biden’s approach is a continuation of Trump’s policy.

The more concerned analysts say the policy needs to be expressed in action to gain relevance, pointing to case studies of the Chinese regime’s malign influence in its areas of expertise.

Biden’s China policy is defined in three words: “invest, align, compete,” as expressed in a long-awaited speech by Secretary of State Antony Blinken at George Washington University in the nation’s capital on May 26.

Investment, Blinken said, refers to investing in foundations of strength here at home—“our competitiveness, our innovation, our democracy,” while aligning refers to the administration’s efforts coinciding with the United States’ global network of allies and partners to oppose China’s increasing aggression.

“And harnessing these two key assets, we’ll compete with China to defend our interests and build our vision for the future,” Blinken said, in a speech that was billed as the administration’s grand strategy toward the Chinese regime.

The speech was eagerly awaited because it came after a year of silence from the U.S. government, which had simply carried forward the Trump administration’s China policy, including the tariffs that Trump introduced to punish China for unfair trade practices, Ian Johnson, the Council of Foreign Relations’s senior fellow for China studies, wrote in an analysis published shortly after the speech.

“The Biden administration’s China policy is a continuation, at most levels of the Trump administration’s policy—the view within the U.S. strategic establishment that China is a peer competitor and rival and that the U.S. needs a strategy to prevent that from happening,” Aparna Pande, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank Hudson Institute, told The Epoch Times in an email.

Kurt Campbell, coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Affairs on the National Security Council, said early this year that Biden’s China policy has bipartisan support.

“Democrats and Republicans have worked more effectively on China and the Indo-Pacific than on any other foreign policy or national security issue,” he said in an interview.

Republicans generally take a stronger view of the threat posed by the Chinese regime, according to a December 2021 public opinion survey by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. Forty-two percent of Republicans consider China an adversary, compared to 17 percent of Democrats, while 67 percent of Republicans consider limiting China’s global influence as a very important goal for U.S. foreign policy compared to 39 percent of Democrats.

In the past four to five years, there’s been more awareness of the “China threat” to the United States among Republicans and Democrats, according to Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and an Epoch Times contributor.

“Before that, you couldn’t even say China was an adversary,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.

He said that elites who donate money to politicians have always called the “shots in Washington and they still do.” Campbell’s statement is an attempt to create the impression that the U.S. administration and the ruling class in the country are now “serious” about confronting the Chinese regime, Newsham said.

“That’s an illusion, unfortunately,” he said.

“Consider the former congressmen and senators and other [U.S. government] officials (both Republicans and Democrats) who have gone to work for Chinese companies and/or to lobby [the U.S. government],” he added.

Epoch Times Photo
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi meet at a hotel in Rome on the sidelines of the G-20 of World Leaders Summit of Rome, on Oct. 31, 2021. (Tiziana Fabi/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Competition and Collaboration

While the Biden administration has touted a policy of both competition and collaboration, such as in climate change, with the Chinese regime, analysts questioned whether that approach is achievable.

Major powers do compete where their interests conflict and cooperate where the interests converge, said Ian Hall, the acting director of the Brisbane-based Griffith Asia Institute and co-editor of the Australian Journal of International Affairs. He told The Epoch Times that he isn’t sure where the United States and China have cooperated.

“I can’t think of many areas where the U.S. has successfully cooperated with China since Biden came to power, largely because Beijing hasn’t shown much willingness to compromise,” Hall said in an email.

Rajiv Dogra, a former senior Indian diplomat and author of the recent book “War Time,” thinks that Biden’s China policy, in the context of the Chinese regime’s increasing aggression, is only a “temporary fix.”

“It does not take care of China’s ambition and its concept of a ‘New World Order’ tailored by it,” Dogra told The Epoch Times in an email. “It also does not take care of China’s desire to replace America as the ultimate arbiter of global affairs.

In his speech at George Washington University, Blinken also made assurances to Beijing that the administration doesn’t seek changes to the Chinese regime’s system of governance, and that the United States doesn’t want to block China from its role as a “major power.”

The net result, according to Newsham, has been a confused China policy.

“It doesn’t seem so well thought out, and sometimes, it’s unclear if the administration intends to stand up to China and assert U.S. interests or to try to accommodate PRC complaints—or even anticipate Chinese objections and preemptively accommodate,” said Newsham, referring to the acronym for the nation: the People’s Republic of China.

The United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can’t cooperate and compete at the same time because the CCP wants to dominate “if not destroy” the United States, and the Chinese leaders have been clear on that point, according to Newsham.

“You really can’t do both equally. Try it and you’ll look confused—and confusion equals weakness,” he said. “At some point, one hopes Team Biden wakes up–and recognizes that the United States is in a fight for its life.”

Epoch Times Photo
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, right, locks arms with visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Honiara, Solomon Islands, on May 26, 2022. (Xinhua via AP, File)

Policy Dragging in the Pacific

Washington’s efforts to build regional partnerships to counter the CCP have also come under scrutiny.

Experts on the Indo-Pacific region said the policy is still far from effective in the Pacific Island nations where Chinese influence is increasing rapidly.

Cleo Pascal, a non-resident senior fellow for the Indo-Pacific at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, expressed concern that the administration’s efforts lack follow-through in the Pacific islands.

“The White House has announced the intention to open new embassies in the region. But, what embassies there are now are often not fully staffed,” Pascal told The Epoch Times.

The Biden administration announced in February that it will open a new embassy in the Solomon Islands, whose current administration is a strong ally of the Chinese regime.

The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the Chinese regime in September 2019 and in April signed a security agreement with the CCP. The pact sparked alarm in Washington and among its allies in the region, who say it could pave the way for Chinese troops and weapons to be stationed at the Pacific Island nation, expanding the regime’s military reach in the South Pacific.

The United States closed its embassy in the Solomon Islands in 1993, and the country is currently covered by the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Papua New Guinea (PNG).

“But there is currently not even an ambassador in post in PNG. So, at a time when a U.S. Coast Guard ship is refused entry into Solomon Islands, there isn’t even an ambassador in the country that is supposed to cover Solomons,” she said.

“You can say whatever you like about policy, but people in the region are looking at what’s actually happening on the ground and judging based on that,” added Pascal, who led the London-based think tank Chatham House’s project “Geostrategic Outlook for the Indo-Pacific 2019-2024.”

Biden in May launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), a trade group of 14 nations that includes Australia, Brunei, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The framework has been touted as a counter to China’s rising military and economic power in the regime, but some analysts question whether it can meet these goals.

“It is often unclear how initiatives such as the IPEF and the recently announced Indo-Pacific infrastructure development scheme will actually be carried out,” Newsham said. “And along these lines, who is actually responsible for setting the administration’s China policy and for its success or failure. I don’t really know.”

The IPEF made an “impressive start,” but doesn’t seem to be living up expectations, according to Dogra.

“Critics point out that it was a mistake to exclude Taiwan from this combination. After all, China itself has a vibrant trade relationship with Taiwan,” Dogra wrote.

“Moreover, if the declared intent of President Biden is, ‘writing the new rules for the 21st century economy’, how can it be done if IPEF is shackled to the hesitations of the past,” he added. “The fact is that China’s economic shadow looms large over the Indo-Pacific, and IPEF is a new arrival. If the intent is to clip China’s overwhelming economic presence in the region, then time and speed is of essence. That, sadly, is not in evidence yet.”

Epoch Times Photo
In this photo released by the Taiwan Legislative Yuan, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, speaks during a meeting with Legislative Yuan Deputy Speaker Tsai Chi-chang in Taipei, Taiwan, on Aug. 3, 2022. China announced on Aug. 16, 2022, that it is imposing visa bans and other sanctions on a number of Taiwanese political figures including Tsai over their promotion of the self-governing island democracy’s independence from Beijing. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP, File)

Pelosi’s Taiwan Trip

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in early August prompted a flurry of escalated military threats from the CCP, including an unprecedented round of military drills in the region that included 11 ballistic missiles fired into waters near Taiwan, with five of them landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

While Pelosi’s trip was symbolic in nature, it was at odds with the administration’s approach to dealing with the regime, according to Zack Cooper, a senior fellow specializing in U.S. strategy in Asia at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.

“Many in Congress appear less concerned about triggering a forceful Chinese response, which is why Nancy Pelosi and others have been willing to take some highly symbolic actions,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.

“Meanwhile, the administration is trying to focus on substantive support to Taiwan, but trying to avoid symbolic or rhetorical changes that they think are unnecessary.”

Pande said that Pelosi’s visit has created more open support for Taiwan because it not only has led to subsequent visits by other members of Congress but by state governors as well.

For Newsham, the speaker’s visit further highlights the confusion existing in the Biden administration about its approach to the Chinese regime.

Ahead of Pelosi’s trip, Biden had said it was a “bad idea” and noted that the military was against it. A White House spokesperson subsequently said that Pelosi had “a right” to visit Taiwan, and that the administration wouldn’t be intimidated by Chinese threats over her trip.

“One hopes Beijing is just as confused as we are—as to whether the Biden administration will challenge or placate the PRC,” Newsham said.

“But the CCP leaders are just as likely to believe that the administration’s confusion (and indeed, fear) over something as straightforward as a high-level visit to Taiwan (of which there have been many)—indicates the administration will be paralyzed if China makes a serious military move against Taiwan.”

Every administration faces a range of opinions and pressures when it tries to carry out a China policy, according to Newsham.

“Some officials and constituencies want a ‘tough’ approach, while others (think Wall Street, the US-China Business Council, and even parts of the State Department) want to appease and accommodate the PRC. So, [Washington’s] China policy often seems contradictory—and working at cross-purposes,” he said.

State Department officials didn’t respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

Venus Upadhayaya
Venus Upadhayaya reports on wide range of issues. Her area of expertise is in Indian and South Asian geopolitics. She has reported from the very volatile India-Pakistan border and has contributed to mainstream print media in India for about a decade. Community media, sustainable development, and leadership remain her key areas of interest.