Friday, June 16, 2023

Biden’s contrasting styles and priorities - The Biden administration has concentrated virtually all its efforts on keeping China from rising, to no avail

I celebrated my 85th birthday by writing this piece for Asia Times. For weeks, US President Joe Biden publicly demanded that the issue of raising the debt ceiling was a done deal and not negotiable. As the prospects of national default loomed, the Biden White House quietly began negotiations with Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and arrived at a compromise in the nick of time so as to avert default. It seems Biden understood, after all, that avoiding the disaster of a default and the mortal pain on the American economy was more important than sticking by his guns. However, he apparently does not understand that the outcome of his negotiations with China is equally crucial to America’s future; his approach has been steadily unyielding, unfriendly and unhelpful. Biden’s China team has adopted a strategy of saying one thing and then doing just the opposite. Every one of his cabinet officers would declare that he or she wishes to meet with their Chinese counterparts to discuss cooperation and collaboration – but always on the US terms, meaning that the US reserves the right to discuss the issues it wants to discuss, but will continue to criticize, attack and sanction China on others. This is the way an imperious hegemonic power acts toward a subordinate country and expects obeisance and compliance. Except China no longer sees itself as a lesser power to the US. China has simply ignored the many White House requests. The latest example came at the Shangri-La security forum in Singapore. The US had asked for a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his counterpart Li Shangfu on the sidelines of the forum. China refused. The US promptly accused China of irresponsible behavior endangering the bilateral relations by not keeping the lines of communication open. US wants to meet with China for what purpose? Of course, communicating and agreeing to face-to-face meetings are two separate matters. China expects prospects of a useful outcome to justify arranging in-person meetings. For possible constructive results, China wants to see serious and sincere gestures from the US. All too frequently in previous meetings, the American officials viewed them as opportunities to crow about China giving in to American demands, whether actually true or not. That Biden did not even bother to lift the personal sanction imposed on Li Shangfu during Donald Trump’s administration and still expects to have a summit meeting of military leaders seems stupid and arrogant. Mind you, Li was sanctioned for purchasing fighter jets from Russia on behalf of China as part of his duty at the time in charge of procurement for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). What right does the US have to sanction an official of another country for doing his job? India buys arms from Russia; Turkey buys arms from Russia, apparently with no sanctions. This is just one example of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s “rules-based international order.” That order is arbitrary and is whatever the US says it is. Blinken was hankering for an invitation to meet in Beijing. Then the wandering weather balloon from China gave him the excuse to cancel the visit on an invitation that never came. Not only that, he reaped a PR dividend by blaming China for the debacle. Examples of hypocrisy and deception abound. Biden warmly embraced Xi Jinping in Bali and swore by the one-China principle and that Taiwan is part of China. Then he openly sells arms to Taiwan and impose complete sanctions of export semiconductor technology to China. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen goes out of her way to ask China for support of the US treasury debt and then goes to Africa to warn African nations to beware of China’s debt-trap diplomacy. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo asked for a meeting with her counterpart to discuss increasing bilateral trade. What she actually meant was she wanted China to buy more but did absolutely nothing to reduce the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports by the Trump administration that might actually raise the volume of bilateral trade. US on the path of self-destruction Decoupling from China is not his intention, Biden claims, but then every action by his team is just the opposite. Every prospective bilateral outcome has to be on US terms, or else. What the Biden White House does not appreciate is that it has embarked on a path of self-destruction for America. The damaging blowback from Biden’s China policy may not be as obvious as not raising the debt ceiling, but there is a strong element of cutting off Uncle Sam’s nose to spite his face that the leaders in Washington seem oblivious to. Just a few examples follow. When Biden first came to office, if he had intended to resume a constructive relationship with China, he could have eliminated the tariffs levied by Trump on Chinese imports. Instead, he retained the tariffs despite hurting the American consumer much more severely than China’s manufacturers. The desire to inflict pain on China far outweighed protecting Americans from even greater pain. Whether it’s assembling new subway cars with Chinese components, installing the world’s most cost-effective port-handling cranes, or surveillance cameras made in China, Washington let its paranoia run wild and turned away the cost savings from buying superior products from China. The sanction of Huawei is an extreme case. Huawei has developed the world’s most advanced fifth-generation (5G) telecommunication system, which has received acceptance around the world. Because of US fear of being spied upon, Washington not only has refused to buy from Huawei but pressured many of its allies to rip out billions of dollars’ worth of Huawei equipment already installed. After enduring the US sanctions for three years, Huawei has just announced the complete replacement of operating software based on Western technology. It will now sell to the world without any constraints, while the United States’ allies suffer hundreds of billions of dollars from the teardown of already installed Huawei equipment and the huge opportunity costs 0f not having a state-of-the-art telecommunication system. China has also surpassed the US in EVs Of course, telecom is not the only technology where China has surpassed the US. Among others, China’s emergence as the world’s leading producer of electric vehicles and owner of leading technology for the batteries that go into the EVs has taken the West by surprise. China has become the No 1 exporter of EVs around the world. Ford and Tesla, among many automakers in the West, would like CATL to build an advanced battery plant next to their EV plants in the US. (CATL is abbreviation for Contemporary Amperex Technology Ltd headquartered in Ningde, China, and is an acknowledged leader in EV battery technology.) The potential deals raise interesting questions. Will Beijing forbid CATL’s transfer of battery technology to the US along the same logic as Washington’s semiconductor sanction on China? Or will some senator, such as a Marco Rubio, raise the specter of Chinese batteries in EVs forming a terrifying network for spying on America? Biden thought he had cleverly jumpstarted the US semiconductor industry by snatching a leading-edge operation from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co to Phoenix, Arizona. Now the TSMC management has discovered that they are not able to hire enough people from an American workforce that are qualified and/or willing to work in the rigors of a Taiwanese operation. In the meantime, the people of Taiwan are feeling increasing betrayed by America’s ham-fisted ways. This is a classic lose-lose outcome in the making. Another is Defense Secretary Austin’s insistence on playing the “freedom of navigation” game in waters around China and flying surveillance planes off coastal China. Since Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei last year, China has emphasized its territorial claim over Taiwan and has been increasingly aggressive in responding to American intrusions in Beijing’s back yard. Just last Saturday, a US destroyer along with a trailing Canadian frigate attempted to sail through the Taiwan Strait, which China regards as its territorial waters. In response to this provocation, a Chinese destroyer intercepted the American warship and forced it to change course. Obviously, the PLA is increasingly willing for a showdown over whether China’s territorial waters can continue to be treated as America’s international waters. The firepower and technology of the PLA warships have surpassed the Americans’, and the Chinese appear confident and ready to put it to a test. If the US Navy should succeed in provoking the PLA into a firefight, it is certain that both parties would be losers. China has more friends than US has allies Geopolitically, the US continues to count on the Group of Seven and a handful of other countries to be its allies. Biden’s stipulation is to insist on strict compliance of his foreign policy even at the expense of each ally’s own national interest. Consequently, France is becoming a doubting Thomas about the wisdom of going along with the US, South Korea is trying to wriggle out of not losing China’s sales, as is ASML of the Netherlands. Germany and Australia in their own ways are holding on to their trade relations with China. In sum, the American alliance is increasingly questioning the shakiness of US leadership. Concurrent to American hectoring over its version of “rule-based” order, 19 countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) purely for the economic advantages of being a body that requires no military allegiance. Saudi Arabia along with other oil-producing countries becoming members of BRICS+ will change the global alignment. The body will be far more populous and economically powerful than the US-aligned G7+. And, by the way, a top agenda item for the new BRICS is to discuss a plan to introduce a new currency to replace the need to settle trade accounts in US dollars. This move is in direct response to Biden weaponizing the dollar and denying dollar access to countries he doesn’t like, such as Russia. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has just come into full force. Members of the partnership consist of the 10 ASEAN countries plus China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. They will enjoy booming, tariff-free trade among themselves. The US is on the outside looking in. Since China initiated the Belt and Road Initiative 10 years ago, around 150 countries have become beneficiaries of projects and investments through BRI. At reasonable financing terms, China supplies their expertise to build infrastructure such as ports, railroad, highways, bridges, airports and many others to enhance the economic development of the recipient country. By far, BRI has been China’s most effective tool for making friends around the world. The US? It stands impotently on the sidelines and watches with envy, and occasionally throws stones by calling these BRI projects debt traps. Despite Washington’s mighty effort to suppress and obstruct China’s rise, China has become relatively impervious to American sanctions and restrictions. Just like Huawei, China’s semiconductor industry will find ways around the ban. At the same time, China has become the foremost trading partner to virtually every country in the world. China’s economy remains strong and technological innovations will continue, hardly affected by actions from Washington. The Biden administration has concentrated virtually all its efforts on keeping China from rising, to no avail. At the same time, the administration has not done anything concrete to lift the competitiveness of the American economy. In a long line of mediocre leadership, Biden may prove the be the worst.

No comments: