Trump Versus Biden on the China Threat

November 23, 2021 Updated: November 27, 2021

Commentary

When facing a threat as formidable as that posed by the Chinese regime, a consistent strategy of resistance is necessary. The United States has to lead the world in such an enormous effort due to its capabilities. For too long, it did not.

Before the Trump administration, there was consistency from Bill Clinton through Barack Obama toward the Chinese regime. Regrettably, it was a strong and unyielding policy of embracing Beijing and thus facilitating the expansion of its power. The cost of those lost decades will be rued in the years to come. This period will be recognized as the worst grand strategic mistake made by the United States.

Historically, when the United States faces a threat as great as China’s, there is a strategy of resistance, or balancing, against it. This strategy is fundamentally sustained even if there is a natural variation in the specific policies of individual administrations. The Eisenhower administration continued Harry Truman’s strategic path of resisting the Soviet Union, which, in turn, was maintained by John F. Kennedy, and sustained for the rest of the Cold War.

The role of the Trump administration was similar to Truman’s—to identify the threat and to turn the rudder of government, Congress, and elite and public opinion to resist it. However, Donald Trump’s role was even more challenging than Truman’s. The Soviet Union stood apart from the U.S. economy, finance, society, and political system. The Communist Party, its front organizations, and its other allies were a threat to be sure, but U.S. society stood in opposition to them.

In contrast, China has embedded itself into the U.S. economy, Wall Street, as well as Main Street, centers of technology, universities, and political system. Most importantly and remarkably, the Chinese regime’s growing might avoided generating any coherent response from U.S. strategists—precisely those responsible for identifying the China threat and mobilizing the U.S. and allied riposte. Moreover, China wove itself into the economies, political systems, and societies of U.S. allies as well.

Trump thus had to change the strategic course of the United States and its allies, despite considerable governmental inertia and opposition, as well as significant resistance from the U.S. economic, financial, strategic, and academic sectors. It is fair to say that opposition across these sectors remains robust.

Epoch Times Photo
President Donald Trump during a welcoming ceremony with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Nov. 9, 2017. (Thomas Peter/Pool/Getty Images)

Like Dwight Eisenhower, Joe Biden had a far easier strategic task than Trump—to build upon what Trump had started and develop momentum against the Chinese regime. Ten months into the Biden administration is useful to consider whether this historical comparison is apt, or whether it is more accurate to identify the current administration as marking a return to the embrace of China that defined Clinton through Obama years.

At this point, the Biden administration has spent Trump’s momentum. The Biden administration is clearly accommodating the Chinese regime while its rhetoric vacillates. Biden has conveyed mixed support for Taiwan, weakness on trade, and there is little evidence that his administration possesses the willingness to evict Beijing’s influence from the U.S. economic, financial, or political system. AUKUS has been the only positive step forward and compels reflection on what else might have been accomplished had Trump been re-elected or if Biden were serious about holding the Chinese regime to account. A U.S.-led boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is also a good step, were it to occur.

But it is offset by other factors, including Biden’s claims during the summit with Chinese leader Xi Jinping that the challenges of COVID-19 or the climate crisis requires the United States and China, with their global influence, to come together with the international community to solve. These remarks are dissonant and painful to hear as the Chinese regime is responsible for world’s two greatest problems. Beijing caused the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is the driving force behind climate change. Rather than coming together as Biden suggested, the interests of the United States and China are diametrically opposed. To resolve both problems, it would be far better if the Biden administration led the international community to sanction the Chinese regime for both problems, either one of which should compel Beijing’s eviction from international society.

Yet, more worrying is Biden’s statement that Beijing and Washington possess positions of global significance, and thus they should work jointly to solve the problems that Beijing caused. These remarks convey an implicit and illegitimate equivalency—that China is the equal of the United States. No U.S. president should state—explicitly or implicitly—that there is an equivalence in power, and the intent of that power, between Beijing and Washington. The intent of the Chinese regime’s power is to suppress freedom for control and break the liberal order so that it may be replaced by a hard authoritarian one.

In the confrontation with the Soviet Union, U.S. presidents led the free world’s resistance in that long struggle. There was an echo of this leadership with the Trump administration. With the Biden administration, the necessary leadership is absent. The United States is still not united behind the threat and it is unlikely to be during the Biden presidency.

On the China threat, Trump versus Biden has been decided in Biden’s favor. The return to the Clinton-Bush-Obama—now Clinton-Bush-Obama-Biden—embrace is likely in all but name. More significantly, the United States does not have the ability to resist the Chinese regime consistently across administrations as it did the Soviets.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Bradley A. Thayer is a founding member of the Committee on Present Danger China and is the co-author of "How China Sees the World: Han-Centrism and the Balance of Power in International Politics."