Jan 31, 2021
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Beijing’s message to the Biden administration

In the early days of the Biden administration’s powers, the United States and the PRC outlined their positions on bilateral relations. The significant discrepancy between positions shows that fierce competition and conflicts will accompany US-China relations under the new administration.

With some softening of the diplomatic style, Biden in relations with the PRC will continue the tough policy of the previous administration to contain China, possibly changing the tactics and methods of containment. China, in turn, will not accept any interference in its internal affairs.

Speaking in the Senate on Jan.19 for confirmation for key positions in the Biden administration, the national security, foreign and economic candidates effectively reaffirmed the Trump administration’s anti-China claims.

Treasury nominee Janet Yellen has pledged to use “the full toolbox” against China’s “offensive” trade policies. Earlier, at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong in January 2020, Yellen warned that issues such as Chinese government subsidies to enterprises, as well as US-China competition in artificial intelligence, ultra-fast mobile networks 5G and other technologies related to national security will be very difficult to solve. This list of Yelen coincides with the claims of the Trump administration against Beijing, including the fundamental issue for the PRC of maintaining government subsidies to state-owned companies.

At the same hearing, candidate for secretary of state Anthony Blinken said he agreed with Mike Pompeo’s assessment of the situation in Xinjiang. Recall that Pompeo periodically made fabrications about the “violation” of human rights in this autonomous region of the PRC.

Two days after the Senate hearing, on January 21, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the imposition of sanctions on 28 officials and members of the former Trump administration who “seriously violated” China’s sovereignty. The sanctions list includes Mike Pompeo, Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro and national security adviser Robert O’Brien. These persons and their immediate family members are prohibited from entering the PRC, including the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau. They and their associated companies and institutions will be restricted from doing business with China.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying on January 21 commented on China’s decision to impose sanctions on these American citizens as a legitimate and necessary response. “On their erroneous behavior, which seriously violated China’s sovereignty, security and development interests”… The sanctions “fully demonstrate the determination of the Chinese government to defend national interests.” The representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed the hope that “The new US administration will objectively and rationally consider China and Sino-American relations, take into account the well-being of the Chinese and American peoples, meet China halfway, maintain a spirit of conflict-free … mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation … and return Sino-American relations to the path of healthy and stable development “

The Chinese sanctions have two addressees. The first is directly those American officials who are directly indicated in the sanctions list. In the United States, influential officials who leave government are often hired by American companies that do lucrative business with China. The sanctions will significantly affect such practices of these individuals.

More important is the second addressee – the Biden administration. Beijing will deal with it for the next four years. Now the new administration is forming short- and long-term approaches to policy towards the PRC, and these sanctions are a warning to Biden’s team.

Republican lawmakers are urging Biden to take more drastic action in response to China’s sanctions, saying “coercion is unacceptable.” However, an editorial by the official Chinese Global Times hints to those in charge in Washington that Beijing would not like this development: “The Republicans want to continue to manipulate the policies of the Democratic Administration in China, and the Radical Congress is seeking more influence in relations with China. All of this is pushing the Biden administration into a trap set by politicians like Pompeo, leading to a scenario whereby Biden must follow Trump’s rules or even Pompeo’s … “

Chinese experts also believe that the sanctions against Trump officials are simultaneously a message from the Biden administration. Liu Xiang, an Americanist expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that “these … sanctions … are a warning to officials who want to be the next Pompeo.”

Chinese sanctions in pursuit of a losing administration are the crowning four-year phase of China’s successful response to US attacks to “contain” the PRC. And a hint to Biden that following Trump’s policies would doom his administration’s foreign policy to failure, given that China boosted GDP by 2.3% in 2020, signed the world’s largest trade deal with its Asian partners, and concluded negotiations with the European Union on a major investment deal …

Beijing makes it clear that it hopes for a dialogue with the Biden administration and a return to the path of cooperation with Washington. The same editorial expresses hope “That the Biden administration has enough wisdom to navigate the minefield and not be led by the nose”

However, the attitude towards China that prevails in the Biden administration does not give much reason to hope for a significant change in US Chinese policy. At a January 25 briefing, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We are in serious competition with China … And Beijing is now challenging our security …”

Apparently, the Biden administration will continue the course of “containment” of the PRC with some possible softening of diplomatic rhetoric and refusal from direct attacks in favor of bypass maneuvers.

Cover photo: REUTERS / POOL New

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