The News (03/5/2021) - On the eve of his first 100 days in office, in his speech to Congress, US President Joe Biden made it clear that his country wants competition and not conflict with China. This is a clear departure from the Trump administration, which blamed the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) for the coronavirus pandemic (calling it Kung Flu), the trade deficit, IP theft, opioid addiction, spying, military aggression and much more besides. He had created a boogeyman of Beijing, taking the world’s leading economy to a path of conflict with the world’s number two economy, and America’s top trade partner.
This is a sensible approach and devoid of acrimony, it is a clear indication that the Biden administration will endeavor to compete with China instead of treading the dangerous path of conflict, which his predecessor had opted for.
In his two-hour telephone conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the eve of the Lunar New Year holiday in February also, Biden had emphatically stated that the US welcomes the competition — and that it is not looking for conflict. But he made it clear that he will defend American interests across the board.
Biden conceded that decades ago, the US used to invest 2% of its GDP on research and development but today it is spending less than 1%. This has enabled China and many other countries to narrow the gap.
It is heartening that Joe Biden took the welcome step of easing of COVID-19 restrictions by announcing that Chinese students due to attend American universities after July 31 were free to enter the country.
The need of the hour is communication. Donald Trump had muffled the lines of talking to each other, Biden needs to revive it. After all, Biden has spent “more time in private meetings” with Xi “than any world leader,” amounting to “25 hours of private dinners.” Xi acknowledges the relationship, calling his US counterpart “my old friend”.
China hopes that Biden’s more statesmanlike approach will lower the geopolitical temperature. Last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivered a speech to the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations in which he said China would “welcome the Biden administration to return to multilateralism” and called on the White House to treat his nation fairly. “The key is whether the United States can accept the peaceful rise of a major country with a different social system, history, and culture,” said Wang. “It is undemocratic … to label China as ‘authoritarian’ or a ‘dictatorship’ simply because China’s democracy takes a different form than that of the United States.”
Truce must be called to end the trade war that has so far cost tens of billions of dollars and up to 245,000 American jobs, according to one study. At a major CPC policy forum last month, China unveiled plans to rollback red tape on financial services, of which U.S. firms are market leaders. Although such reforms have been promised many times before, economists opine that the new proposals are more tangible. Such concessions can be built upon by a determined White House.
China-US cooperation can be constructed to jointly combat the major challenges. Biden has made it clear that climate change will be a big part of his administration, but he cannot achieve anything on climate change unless he brings China on board.
Despite its bad track record in the past as a polluter, China under the Xi Jinping administration, has appeared as an environmental champion, unveiling ambitious new targets to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 and be carbon neutral by 2060.The duo of Biden and Xi have the opportunity to build consensus on issues like coronavirus vaccine development, education, cultural ties, nuclear proliferation, trade and investment. Despite the pandemic and the specter of economic decoupling, Chinese firms are also planning to set up a record number of IPOs in the U.S. this year.
There is an urgent need to reduce tensions. Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had challenged the legitimacy of the CPC and called for regime change. In this light, every aspect of bilateral relations came under attack, including visas for Chinese students, seemingly innocuous social media platforms like TikTok, and the sale of U.S. tech components to Chinese firms. Most of these confrontations are self-defeating, such as a crackdown on Chinese journalists in the US, which prompted a retaliation against journalists, and local staff, at US media organizations in China. Ordering China to close its consulate in Houston also provoked the shuttering of the US consulate in Chengdu.
Biden insists on maintaining a military presence in Indo-China but ganging up on China might not seem like a great way to mend ties, given that Beijing has traditionally preferred dealing with individual states instead of multinational groupings like the European Union. Ironically, Biden was key to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a sprawling trade pact including the U.S. and 11 other countries from Asia and the Americas but Trump nixed the pact on his first full day in office. The remaining 11 members eventually moved forward with a modified agreement while freezing 22 provisions insisted upon by Washington, including protections for U.S. workers. Time is ripe for the U.S. to rejoin the TPP but Biden’s “Buy American” policy might preclude the membership, while existing members may be reluctant to renegotiate terms with Washington.The world would be better served if Joe Biden and Xi Jinping put their collective wisdom together to make it a safer place.
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