Joe Biden has a China problem. His administration has been highly inconsistent with the direction it wants to take American relations with the East Asian power, and it’s beginning to become a genuine concern.
At the G-7 summit last weekend, Biden pushed the world leaders in attendance to take firmer stances against China. This call followed an executive order he issued weeks earlier to ban American businesses from investing in companies believed to be linked to the Chinese military and its partners. The executive order built off a blacklist initially issued by the Trump administration to protect the United States against companies believed to support China’s military operations.
Biden’s G-7 proclamations against China and expansion of this Trump-era “tough on China” policy represent common-sense ways to protect the U.S.’s security interests. However, just days later, the president took the opposite approach, announcing plans to rescind the former president’s Tik Tok/WeChat executive order that prevents the two social networking giants from collecting Americans’ user location data for the Chinese military.
This mixed signal is the latest contradiction in a pattern that analysts have seen develop rapidly over the last 100-plus days of this presidency, and it has rightfully raised alarm bells.
While Biden spent years downplaying China’s threat to U.S. competitiveness and national security, he has appeared to understand better the risk the country poses to America’s security interests since his election.
In February, he put forward an executive order focused on ensuring the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and other key American supply chains aren’t overly dependent on the People’s Republic.
Then in March, he made regulatory changes that gave the Commerce Department more power to crack down on dangerous “information and communications technology services” transactions between the U.S. and foreign actors like China.
But for every common-sense move like these, the administration appears to make two others that limit the U.S.’s ability to fend off Chinese aggression.
Rescinding the WeChat/TikTok orders is the most recent example, but it’s not the only one. For example, just one day after Biden issued his June 3 executive order that expanded Trump’s blacklist of U.S. investments in certain Chinese companies, The Wall Street Journal reported that his Department of Defense is exploring funding research into rocket-based military cargo vehicles such as those being produced by Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
SpaceX shares research and development work with Tesla, another Elon Musk-backed venture with profound ties to China and its government.
If the administration agrees with the intelligence community that ties to China open the door to theft and weaken national security, why would it enter into a research agreement with a firm whose CEO is dependent on communist regime funds and whose work China targets and steals? This decision could only come from an administration yet to establish a clear philosophy for dealing and engaging with the communist regime.
From an organizational standpoint, inconsistency in U.S. foreign policy can lead to holes in enforcement by regulators and allow further erosion of the country’s security apparatus to occur.
From a diplomacy standpoint, the mixed messages won’t help negotiations with Beijing, which have already been contentious. They also hurt America’s ability to coordinate with its democratic allies, which it needs to form a strong coalition against China.
For the sake of U.S. national security and America’s long-term relationship with the People’s Republic, it’s high time for the president to develop his Biden Doctrine and stick to it.
If the president is serious about cracking down on China, he needs to find the source of the inconsistencies within his administration. That should start with streamlining his advisers.
Kurt Campbell, President Biden’s primary adviser on China and the Indo-Pacific region, has towed the China crackdown lines quite effectively for some time. He recently said at a virtual seminar that, “The period that was broadly described as ‘engagement’ [with China] has come to an end” and that competition with the country is the new reality.
While Campbell recognizes the strong approach that the U.S. must take against China moving forward, other prominent members of the president’s inner circle don’t appear to be on the same page.
For instance, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is known for his more dovish approach to Pacific diplomacy.
In September, Blinken told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that decoupling from China is “unrealistic and ultimately counter-productive.” Complete decoupling isn’t what concerned analysts are proposing. Instead, they want what Biden should want — targeted shielding of America’s vital sectors that uphold its strength and security.
Nevertheless, influential officials like Blinken continue to muddy the water and make it harder for the president to offer a concise policy direction.
This administration must prioritize the security of this nation now while it’s still in a position of strength. That may mean re-evaluating whose opinions are helping guide the ship. When it comes to America’s security, feelings can never take precedent over making decisions that keep the public safe. Hopefully, Biden understands the importance of a consistent guiding doctrine and acts swiftly to solidify it.
America’s future is at stake.
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