Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Tensions between the US and China are evident as Biden heads for two summits

WASHINGTON (AP) – For nine months under President Joe Biden, the US pursued a diplomatic strategy that can be described as China without China.

On security, trade, climate and COVID-19, the Biden White House attempted to reorient the United States and its allies to the strategic challenges posed by a growing China, with little direct interaction between the two rivals.

The president is now preparing for a couple of global summits in which he will again not meet with China’s Xi Jinping, but tensions and aggravation between the world’s two largest economies will nevertheless be on the alert.

Biden is heading to the G-20 summit in Rome this weekend after months of still unresolved negotiations over his proposals to invest billions of dollars in American workers and key industries. He promotes this policy, proposing it as a solution to the generational challenge posed by China, and encouraging the rest of the world to join his cause.

But Xi has decided to skip the G-20 – and the next climate summit in Scotland – due to COVID-19, the absence of which may be the most important aspect of the meetings as the world waits to see what commitments China will make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, the Chinese leader will virtually participate in some events, skipping informal conversations and conversations that often lead to the greatest progress at international summits.

Since taking office in January, Biden has spoken to Xi only twice, although they agreed to meet at virtually some point before the end of the year. The US leader was keen to focus on strengthening America’s domestic and international positioning before seeking a direct face-to-face meeting with Xi, but now there seems to be a tinge of regret that the meeting will not take place sooner.

“In an era of intense competition between the United States and China, intense diplomacy at the highest level, diplomacy at the leadership level is vital to effectively managing this relationship,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Tuesday in announcing the trip.

However, China was never far from Biden’s mind. And the president wants this to be in the spotlight of voters too.

He hints at an upward force in almost every speech he speaks. He cites the need to confront and coax China into important policy statements on everything from the US withdrawal from Afghanistan to its ongoing push to boost domestic infrastructure and social spending by trillions.

“In the 21st century race between democracies and autocracy, we must prove that democracies can be beneficial,” Biden said this summer, promising American COVID-19 vaccines to the world. Earlier this month, he ushered in the same “great debate” about the effectiveness of democracies when he persuaded Congress to quickly raise the government debt limit.

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“Our infrastructure used to be the best in the world,” Biden said this month, billing for expenses, arguing that transferring his priorities is more than just symbolism. “Twelve other countries have better infrastructure than us, and China has trains that travel at 230 miles per hour over long distances.”

Still, painful months of tedious negotiations over his spending package, which includes hundreds of billions of dollars to help the US move away from fossil fuels, could prevent Biden from pressured China to commit to environmental protection. China has boosted coal production amid recent power outages.

Biden has attempted to reorient the apparatus of the federal government and global alliances such as NATO to oppose Beijing, even as European diplomats often express polite bewilderment at the growing US focus on their rivalry with China. Many European countries have embraced Chinese infrastructure investments as part of their Belt and Road Initiative, and successive US administrations have struggled to prevent the Chinese company Huawei from controlling the backbone of emerging 5G infrastructure.

At the G20, Biden will once again try to sell the world his “Restore a Better World” program – an attempt by advanced democracies to offer developing countries an alternative to the Chinese infrastructure initiative, which the US claims is often cumbersome and onerous. even compulsion is attached. He will also pressure US allies to meet their global vaccine donation commitments more quickly as the US watches China wary of its COVID-19 “vaccine prevention” strategy.

The US has made it a priority to engage with its Quartet partners India, Japan and Australia as Biden tries to convince allies to speak with a more united voice on China. And addressing the geopolitical scandal with France over the US-UK plan to supply Australia with nuclear submarines to better respond to the Chinese threat is at the center of Biden’s diplomatic agenda this week.

At Biden’s direction, the US intelligence community began a series of investigations into Beijing. Over the past several months, officials have publicly accused China of inciting cyber incursions, considering attempting to meddle in American elections, and hiding important information about the COVID-19 pandemic. These accusations prompted angry revelations from Beijing, which sometimes responded by pointing out previous failures of US intelligence.

Speaking to Stanford students last week, CIA Director William Burns called China “the biggest geopolitical challenge” facing the United States.

“Competition with China for the United States extends to virtually every area in existence,” he said.

On the military front, the newest source of US concern is the recent test of hypersonic weapons in China, which General Mark Milli, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called close to “satellite moment,” referring to the launch in 1957 by a carrier rocket. The Soviet Union became the world’s first satellite in space to catch the world by surprise and fuel fears that the United States was lagging behind technologically.

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The Chinese government has disputed Western news reports of the test, saying it is working on a reusable spacecraft rather than a rocket.

While some see the emergence of a new Cold War, it is in many ways more complex than the decades-old Soviet conflict.

At this point, the United States and China became both rivals and codependents. The US needs to work with China to tackle climate change and curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the two economies are closely linked despite the Trump-era tariffs that Biden has kept.

Beijing, for its part, seeks not only to abandon protectionist measures, but also to ensure that the United States perceives the rise of China as a geopolitical country equal to its sphere of influence. They found a striking continuity between Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, who actively sought to counter Chinese goals in various ways.

The US relationship with China “could be a matter of our generation,” said Matthew Goodman, senior vice president of economics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Biden needs to maintain a strong relationship with China to tackle existential issues like climate change, even as Taiwan’s status, cyberattacks, and efforts to restore factory jobs that have been displaced overseas suggest the two countries are also diverging.

The two countries will need to find a way forward for the global community in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

G20 members have spent a total of $ 15 trillion to overcome the economic downturn caused by the disease, creating high levels of debt that could become problematic if the Federal Reserve tightens its monetary policy and interest rates rise from their relative minimums.

Census data show that Americans intend to import $ 470 billion worth of Chinese goods this year, the highest since 2018, when Trump began imposing new tariffs. Trade maintained ties between the two countries, and their growth depended on each other, despite mutual tensions.

While Trump has mostly gone solo on China, Biden sees two summits next week as a chance to solidify what he hopes will be a Western coalition against China.

Sullivan says China needs to understand that “the United States has a positive economic agenda to ensure macroeconomic stability in the world, that there are certain steps we are going to take to protect our workers and our businesses.”

From there, he said, the administration waits to see “what the Chinese government is ready to step up and do.”


AP contributors Nomaan Merchant, Bob Burns, and Ellen Nickmeier contributed.

Nation World News Desk
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