BIDEN ADMINISTRATION MAY RUN RISK OF BEING TAKEN IN BY BEIJING
By the time the reader reads this column, Joe Biden will have been inaugurated as America’s 46th President, with the new Democratic administration announcing a rapid succession of policies. Meanwhile, at this writing (January 18), Mike Pompeo and Wilbur Ross are busily mapping out last-minute China policies as departing secretaries of state and commerce.
As I wrote last week, Pompeo on January 9 abolished all of the State Department’s restrictions on personnel exchanges between the US and Taiwan honoring Beijing’s “one-China” principle, which had long constituted the basis of America’s China policy. On January 11, Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper met with Hsiao Mei-qin, Taiwan’s representative in the US.
Kelly Craft, ambassador to the UN, was slated to visit Taiwan on January 13 for a series of consultations with President Tsai Ing-wen and other top Taiwanese officials. But her trip was called off as the State Department cancelled all senior-level overseas trips scheduled for the week, including Pompeo’s own to Taipei.
There was no official explanation regarding the reasons for the cancellation, but informed sources explained that it was due significantly to the mob of Trump supporters storming the US Capitol on January 6. Craft’s visit presumably was cancelled for no other reason. That was obvious from a friendly video conversation she had with the Taiwanese leader January 13.
Craft paid Tsai and Taiwan the highest compliment, stating: “The US stands with Taiwan and always will, as friends and partners, standing shoulder to shoulder as pillars of democracy.” She also cheered Tsai and her people by noting that the US regards it absolutely unjust that Taiwan has been barred from the World Health Organization because of Beijing’s interference. Tsai expressed sincere thanks for America’s “staunch support for Taiwan’s international participation.”
As of January 18, the Commerce Department had notified four Huawei suppliers of its decision to revoke licenses to sell parts to the giant Chinese 5G manufacturer. The suppliers include Intel and Kioxia (Toshiba Memory Corporation until 2018). The department is also reportedly considering rejecting “dozens” of other licenses to supply Huawei.
BIDEN AS “NO. 1 Geopolitical RISK”
As expected, Beijing has reacted fiercely to the hardline posture the Trump administration maintained until the eleventh hour to tighten America’s guard against China. But China has only been able to retaliate like a brat using violent language. A regards Pompeo and his team, The Global Times, the overseas edition of the Communist Party (CCP) organ People’s Daily, had this to say in its January 12 editorial: “We will discredit Pompeo and his likes for their hubris in misjudging the situation and deter them in the Taiwan Straits. We would rather face a Taiwan Straits crisis, even a storm, in the next 10 days if Pompeo and his likes become more aggressive and provocative before leaving office. The crisis will teach Taiwan secessionists a lesson and nail Pompeo and his likes to the pillar of shame.” This time the Chinese, who have earlier threatened that “war will be sparked if the US and the Island of Taiwan overreacted,” apparently intended to blackmail its adversaries by warning that they are ready to take Taiwan by force, if push comes to shove.
The biggest common issue for members of the free world today is how to cope effectively with a China poised to exercise formidable military force any time it likes. The scenario of China being the greatest threat also affects the Biden administration, which is viewed as pro-China. How Biden will come to grips with China’s true intentions and whether he will be able to deal resolutely with them, will undoubtedly determine the world situation going forward.
Can the world really count on the Biden administration? It was American international political scientist Ian Bremmer who in 2012 predicted that the 21st century would see a “G-zero” world, with no leadership nations to turn to. In “Top Ten Risks for 2021” published by Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm he heads, Bremmer lists “46*”—a reference to President Biden faced with bitter political divisions, among other things—as the top geopolitical risk. The report asserts that the bitter polarization of US society will not diminish under Biden and that the US will not be able to exercise strong international leadership. As a result, predicts Bremmer, the world will continue to remain unstable.
Instability can also affect US-China relations in 2021 and beyond. Biden has earlier declared “America is back” as the leader of the free world, emphasizing that America will once again value its allies. But America’s allies do not feel secure. Biden is viewed as “the top risk” despite his declaration because of the seeming absence of a grand world strategy on the part of his administration.
But America cannot be without a grand strategy. A quick read of a just released 2017 document on the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy and a related statement from National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien reveals how solidly the Defense and State Departments had crafted America’s world strategy. The Indo-Pacific document had originally been classified by the National Security Agency to remain unpublicized for 30 years, but the White House decided to make it public on the occasion of the transition. In doing so, the Republicans may have intended to put a check on the incoming Democratic administration as regards its China policy.
Describing America’s grand strategy with a view on its close security relations not only with Japan, Australia, and India but also South Korea and Taiwan, O’Brien’s 10-page statement clearly reflects the depth of America’s sense of crisis as regards China. The important question is whether the Biden administration will accommodate the Republicans’ concern and analysis as manifested in these documents.
If Negotiations Must Come First
Restoring the world order—which has been brazenly undermined by Chinese values that differ significantly from those of Japan, the US, and Europe—will be difficult without coming to grips with the reality of the Chinese threat. Despite the relative crudeness of its approach, the Trump administration staunchly endeavored to cope with the threat by at least well recognizing it.
Japan and several major European nations—the so-called middle powers—realize that the era in which the US alone was expected to resolve problems with China, is no longer. What is expected of the US today is to present a road map for a common goal. One factor that makes me unsure if Biden can deliver the goods is his choice of key administration members.
Take, for instance, John Kerry, whom Biden has appointed special presidential envoy on the climate crisis. Biden has given Kerry, once a powerful presidential candidate, a special status, entitling him to sit in cabinet and National Security Council sessions. He is also free to fly on military aircraft on his trips overseas. Kerry is said to value the climate issue over America’s need to guard itself against China’s economic aggression and military expansion. Not only that. He is also said to be of the opinion that the US, and the world at large for that matter, will not be able to resolve the climate change issue without closely cooperating with China. If so, Kerry likely can be expected to want to resolve problems by boosting exchanges with Chinese leaders, actively engaging them in negotiations.
China is adamant about combining climate change and global environmental issues with those involving the economy, the military, and hegemony. Kerry, who allegedly highly favors negotiations, may run the risk of falling into a Chinese trap. Having massively invested in the “Made in China 2025” scheme announced in 2015, China has since clearly integrated its economy and military, vowing to safeguard national security under all circumstances.
Xi Jinping’s intention is clear: replacing the goal of his nation’s security with the security of his administration, he has steadfastly been endeavoring to solidify a system that enables him to remain a lifetime emperor of China. Spurred by insane narcissism—certainly not love for all mankind or even for his own people—Xi rules an administration that is aiming to put under the Communist Party influence the entire international community economically and militarily in the medium to long term. Going forward, the Biden administration will be bound to be fooled if it should fail to rigidly scrutinize any negotiation it decides to have with such a malicious counterpart. Can this administration manage to recognize and avoid such danger? I am not sure.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 935 in the January 28, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)