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Biden’s Balancing Act: Establishing A ‘Victory Path’

In this four-part series, Megan Dewhirst will investigate the need for the United States to establish an end goal for their foreign policy towards China, and will outline the challenges that Biden faces, and what the potential outcome of the current relationship may be.

Antony Blinken, the incumbent United States Secretary of State, and National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, faced China’s Foreign Policy Official, Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, on Thursday 18th March 2021. The talks, which were held in Alaska, took an uncharacteristically undiplomatic turn, which ended in the delegates exchanging mutual insults and accusations (Hansler, Gaouette, and Atwood, 2021). Notably, the Chinese delegates accused the U.S. representatives of being condescending, while the U.S. officials blamed the Chinese statesmen of showboating. 

This latest demonstration of animosity calls for a re-evaluation of the relationship between the U.S. and China. More specifically, it requires the Biden Administration to take a more substantive consideration of the desired outcome of these talks, and future foreign policy, towards China and America’s Asian allies. 

President Biden has described the Sino-U.S. relationship as one of ‘extreme competition’, but he remained cautious to emphasise that there ‘need not be conflict’ (Wertime 2021). However, the problem lies herein, Biden refuses to strategize upon how this relationship would come to an end. By calling the relationship ‘extreme competition’, he continues the precedent set by his predecessor, President Trump, whose administration claimed that the Sino-U.S. conflict was caused by the existence of the Communist Party, suggesting that the rivalry would cease when the Communist regime did (Cooper and Brands 2021). The ‘extreme competition’ conveys this same lack of finality, revealing that the Biden administration has very little plans for the outcome of this competition.

A strategic plan to establish an outcome for the Sino-U.S. ‘competition’, that has progressively worsened under successive governments since Obama, is desperately needed. As outlining a plan would serve to entrench cohesion across the U.S. executive, legislature, and relevant federal agencies, a characteristic that Biden values deeply after the erratic nature of Trump’s foreign policy. Equally, a strategic end goal enables mutual understanding between China and America, illuminating their expectations of each other and avoiding a dangerous blind dance around possible global conflict. Lastly, and vital for domestic understanding of foreign policy, establishing an end goal for this relationship allows a benchmark to be set, at which the successfulness of policy towards China can be measured. 

President Biden has taken the reins just as China is at the apex of its geopolitical ascendency, and America’s influence has been slowly losing its’ potency in Asia. Both the U.S. and China are equally vying for a place as the global hegemon, and while China refuses to cede their advances towards global power, the U.S. declines to sacrifice its unipolarity (Cooper and Brands, 2021). Consequently, this entrenches significant animosity and antagonism between the states, and could theoretically, result in the U.S. and China blindly walking in to a second Cold War. Therefore, the relationship between these states is at an impasse, and an outcome must be established close this chapter. 

The eventualities of this relationship have many possible outcomes, with few being attractive to both the U.S. and China. The ideal, but unlikely, eventuality lies with mutual accommodation (Cooper and Brands 2021). However, the reality of the situation, due to China’s ascendency ambitions and America’s defensive nature regarding their unipolarity, means that other eventualities are far more probable. Therefore, the U.S. may favour the eventuality of Chinese state collapse, while the Xi Jinping administration shall hope for America’s secession of influence. Most catastrophically, the relationship could result in all out conflict, an end which is made more likely by the U.S. reluctance to assign a strategic end goal to the relationship (Cooper and Brands, 2021).  

References

  • BBC 2021, “US and China trade angry words at high-level Alaska talks” 19 March 2021    
  • Cooper, Z. and Brands, H., 2021. America Will Only Win When China’s Regime Fails. [online]Foreign Policy.
  • Hansler, J., Gaouette, N., and Atwood, K., 2021. “US and China trade barbs after Blinken warns of need to respect global order or face a ‘more violent world’” CNN Politics
  • Tisdall, S. 2016 “Barack Obama’s ‘Asian pivot’ failed. China is in ascendancy” The Guardian
  • Wertime, D. 2021 “’Extreme Competition’ is now the watchword in U.S. China relations” Politico[online] 

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