When Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, he ran on overhauling the economic relationship with China, which he blamed for raiding American factories and offshoring American jobs. Throughout his administration, Trump railed against the communist country for unlawfully claiming territory in the Pacific Ocean, stripping Hong Kong’s autonomy, and covering up the Wuhan virus outbreak.
Whatever you think of Trump’s positions on China, it’s a sharp contrast to what we’ve heard from President-elect Joe Biden on the same issues, which is essentially not much. When discussing his foreign policy during the 2020 campaign, Biden rarely got more specific than promising “to work with allies.”
On the campaign trail in May, Biden downplayed any problems the United States may have with China. “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man … I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us,” he said.
In an October “60 Minutes” interview, Biden upgraded the Chinese threat level from “not competition” to our “biggest competitor,” saving the actual “biggest threat” label for Russia.
Whether you interpret his silence on China as actively pro-China, or merely feeble on China, Biden’s weak stance is cause for concern as Beijing shows no slowing down in their pursuit of becoming the dominant global superpower. I asked a group of foreign policy experts what they envision as the worst-case scenario for China’s behavior under a Biden administration. Here’s what they had to say.
The worst thing that can result from Biden’s China policy is the next global war.
China’s regime tested both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama early in their terms with dangerous intercepts of the U.S. Navy in the global commons, specifically, the EP-3 collision in the case of Bush, and the harassment of the Impeccable and Victorious during Obama’s first months. In both cases, China felt it had prevailed.
The regime did not test President Trump because, I believe, Chinese leaders were scared of him.
They are not scared of Biden, as is evident from the bold comments of Renmin University’s Di Dongsheng, publicized widely inside China late last month. Those comments show the breathtaking arrogance of the Chinese elite, which now has no hesitation expressing in public its belief that, with a President Biden, China will once again control outcomes at the highest levels in Washington.
Because the Chinese elite believe they can do whatever they want, it will be hard for Biden to deter such a militant regime. Chinese ruler Xi Jinping might do something dangerous, something that America will have to oppose.
Once China starts something, Russia, North Korea, and Iran could take advantage of the situation to start hostilities elsewhere. We can, therefore, face simultaneous crises.
Gordon Chang is a columnist and author of “The Coming Collapse of China.”
In the near term, the event of the most serious gravity would be China takes Taiwan. And if Beijing calculates that the Biden administration won’t stop it, no question the People’s Liberation Army does it. Like Hong Kong, it will be a nightmare for the Taiwanese, a really wonderful liberty-loving people. It’s hard to even think of it.
And with their loss, so goes America’s prominence in the Pacific. It would be a huge blow to our ability to make good on our security commitments in the region. It would be devastating.
Rebeccah Heinrichs is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute, where she specializes in nuclear deterrence and missile defense.
From what we observe at Asia Times, none of the Trump administration’s restrictions on exports to China has made much of a dent. China has installed nearly 1 million base stations out of a goal of 10 million to build out its national 5G network by 2024. Germany, Japan, and South Korea have refused American demands to exclude Huawei and ZTE from their 5G networks, although there are some limitations.
China, meanwhile, is developing 5G applications, including smart cities (traffic management), agriculture, flexible manufacturing, and so forth. And our imports from China in November reached an all-time record. If anything, this is likely to accelerate under a Biden administration, which probably will trade off a piecemeal removal of some of the Trump administration’s restrictions for greater access by US companies to the Chinese domestic market. I would use the word “re-coupling,” except there really hasn’t been any de-coupling to speak of.
David Goldman writes the “Spengler” column for Asia Times and is a regular contributor to the Claremont Review of Books and to PJ Media.
I think Biden is fundamentally cautious, as his reticence about Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. show. But he is also a feeble senile personality, as in he gets pushed over. So, in a Biden administration, there are two threats.
One, idealistic fanatics, like Susan Rice and others, will push Biden into untenable positions, and doing so, Biden would take his eyes off the ball and bankrupt and overstretch the country. China is the greatest challenge facing the United States, and the United States frankly needs an alliance in Asia, like an Asian NATO or a Quad to focus on stopping China’s rise, and move away from human rights promotion in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
Two, make sure Europe pays their fair share and stop free-riding. The European Union is turning into an empire, and if they side with China, game over. Biden lacks the spine to take on the EU.
Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK, and a senior contributor to The Federalist.
The worst-case scenario I worry about is not accidental war or China’s near-term world domination. I worry about their successful global influence campaign that uses gifts, loans, bribes, think tanks, and academics in a brilliantly orchestrated campaign to bolster those who see China with complacency. They have promoted the image that China loves peace, loves the environment, and faces enormous internal challenges. The idea is to demonize anyone who wants to challenge China.
The campaign against Huawei taught our senior officials that China will not just faint away or swoon when the U.S. government says “boo.” China will fight back with all instruments of its economic power. They have had real success with many of our 550 or so billionaires who visit China in their executive jets, are hosted by Xi Jinping himself, and then promote false narratives suggested by the Chinese.
A few of Joe Biden’s advisers know China well and want him to be tough. I wrote “The Hundred Year Marathon” with a lot of declassified materials that CIA and FBI approved of me disclosing. My goal was to wake people up.
Michael Pillsbury is the director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute and has served in presidential administrations from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.
We should be deeply concerned because Biden has said so little. China takes a great deal of comfort that Biden is going to assume power in January, because if you look at his cabinet, these are all people who China knows how to deal with. These are all people who have been around for a long time and they advocated for China’s policies in the past. They’re mostly driven by corporate interests and emphasizing economic engagement.
For the last several decades, they painted a picture that economic engagement will bring political change in China, and it turns out economic engagement in a regime that has no interest to change only gives them economic power and helps them grow military power.
Look at what happened under the last four years of the Obama-Biden administration, when China took over the control of almost the entire South China Sea. That’s the template. If Biden carries similar policies going forward, it’s really likely China’s going to conquer somewhere else, most likely Taiwan, based on that same template. I think the real worst-case scenario is China becomes unstoppable.
Helen Raleigh is a senior contributor at The Federalist and author of “Backlash: How China’s Aggression Has Backfired.”