The new U.S. administration is expected to bring about many changes in U.S. foreign policy. Many believe that Washington will reengage in global initiatives, such as the Paris climate accord, and U.S. foreign policymakers are expected to coordinate their policies more closely with U.S. allies in the Atlantic and Pacific.
In some critical issue areas, such as the Iranian nuclear deal, the administration of Joe Biden is planning to make a U-turn from the Donald Trump era policies.
However, even before the election, foreign policy pundits had been arguing that there will still be some continuity in foreign policy. This continuity was expected to be most apparent in the U.S. foreign policy toward China.
Although the tone of the Biden administration and the way it conducts its relations might be different from the previous administration, many argued that the new administration will also consider China as a major strategic threat to U.S. interests and national security. Just like previous administrations, the new administration will take China very seriously.
These projections of the foreign policy pundits turned out to be correct. Just weeks after the inauguration, Biden and his foreign policy team started to give the first signals of their approach to China.
The two developments this week at the presidential level demonstrated the commitment of the Biden administration to pursue a rather assertive approach toward China.
Biden last week visited the Pentagon, and during his visit, he announced a Pentagon task force on China-related matters. Biden stated that dealing with China “will require a whole-of-government efforts, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, and strong alliances and partners.”
According to the reports, the task force “will take a deep dive into the department’s strategy; operational concepts; technology and force structure; force posture and force management; intelligence; alliances and partnerships; and military relations with China.”
Thus, the establishment of this force indicated that Biden is willing to establish a sustainable and long-lasting foreign policy toward China and he is willing to discover his options and constraints.
Although he reiterated that he is not willing to use military power to reach some foreign policy objectives, he still wants to know what these options are, in case it becomes necessary to use them.
Secondly, Biden had a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The readout from the White House demonstrated the difference in terms of tone when it comes to relations with China.
The second sentence of the readout summarized a laundry list of issues that the U.S. will take into account when it comes to relations with China.
The readout stated that “Biden affirmed his priorities of protecting the American people’s security, prosperity, health, and way of life, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The geopolitical dispute in the South China Sea, the dispute regarding China’s transparency (or lack of it) when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic and intellectual property right infringements will be at the top of the list for the Biden administration while dealing with China.
In addition to that, the third sentence of the readout demonstrated the U.S. emphasis on the developments in Hong Kong and human rights violations against the Uighurs in China.
The emphasis on this issue at the presidential level would be a departure from the Trump administration. Finally, in the last sentence of the readout, the Biden administration underlined the significance of the U.S. allies in the region and the U.S. commitment to protect the interests of these allies as well.
These two developments last week showed some of the issues that will come forward in U.S.-China relations in the next four years. The fact that Biden called China a strategic threat to the U.S. demonstrated his willingness to follow a rather assertive policy toward Beijing.
The task force report in four months will clarify the road map for a more assertive American policy.