Washington sends ‘ mixed signals’ on China policy
The latest mixed messages from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concerning certain core issues such as Taiwan, Xinjiang and the coronavirus show that the Biden administration has been facing challenges in clearly defining its China policy, struggling to keep a hard- line stance to respond to domestic anti- China consensus, but still hoping for possible cooperation in more sectors with the world’s second- largest economy.
Some Chinese experts on China- US relations see such perplexity reflecting the US government being intertwined in unclear definition of and a lack of understanding on a rising China, with its outdated China policy needing a thorough revamp. At the same time, a palpable hesitation to adopt more aggressive steps in provoking China on its core questions like Taiwan also indicated that Washington clearly knows where “the off- limits and dangerous areas” are in the China- US relationship, and how dangerous it could become if the US government actively seeks to change the TaiwanStraits status quo by force.
In an interview with NBC on Sunday, Blinken spent much time talking about how to confront China, laying out his views on the origins of the coronavirus, the Taiwan question, the US’ stance on the 2022 Winter Olympics, and also the situation in Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. When NBC host Chuck Todd asked him whether the US is “prepared
to defend the island of Taiwan militarily,” Blinken dodged a direct response, instead, reiterating that there is “a bipartisan commitment” to Taiwan island under the Taiwan Relations Act.
Regarding the origins of the coronavirus and the early handling of the pandemic, Blinken adopted rhetoric similar to his predecessor Mike Pompeo by replaying an outdated blame game, which was ridiculed by netizens not only in China but also overseas.
While once again smearing China’s policy on Xinjiang with the term “genocide,” Blinken admitted in the Sunday interview that the US cannot avoid cooperation with China, as “we also have to make sure that we are dealing with all of our interests.”
Careful tight- rope walking
Blinken’s words show that the Biden administration has yet to detach from the Trump administration in most areas, and there is no essential difference between the two administrations in terms of policy objectives and the definition of China’s role, some experts said.
Yuan Zheng, deputy director and senior fellow of the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that the Biden administration’s China policy is still in the process of being readjusted, as many procedures in the Departments of Defense, Treasury and State Department are still being evaluated and reviewed.
The Biden administration is also confined by Trump’s “legacy” on China policy, with some measures remaining irremovable while Biden administration is not willing to remove some others, said Yuan, citing the example of the Biden administration in keeping Trump- era tariffs in place, which are viewed as Washington’s leverage to contain China.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan “anti- China” consensus is becoming increasingly solid, according to some observers. A Gallup poll released in March shows that Americans’ favorable ratings of China have plummeted to a record low 20 percent, the lowest since 1979.
The world is waiting anxiously for cooperation between two largest economies, as sustainable cooperation in many areas including climate change, the economy and trade as well as vaccine inoculations can inject momentum to the global recovery post- COVID- 19.
According to the Washington Post, US climate envoy John Kerry is expected to travel to China this week in an attempt to carve out climate change as an area of closer collaboration. However, there’s no official confirmation from the Chinese side, but some observers see the potential trip still carrying a positive signal.
Meanwhile, the White House is scheduled to hold a virtual summit on Monday in addressing the global chip shortage, which excludes virtually all key players from the Chinese mainland, seen as another Washington- led push to decouple with China in high- tech sector.
No matter how different they are from Trump, the Biden administration shows willingness in finding some common ground for cooperation, which could be a good starting point, Xin noted. “How to define this strategic competition- cooperation ties by the US remains a major question, or in other words, how to let competition override cooperation while keeping potential conflicts under control?” Xin said.