This is the reality that Joe Biden’s administration must now keep in mind when shaping its own Chinese policy. As political science professor Minxin Pei recently said at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, China’s foreign policy stance towards the United States rests on three things: Perceived American decline , perceived opportunities for China’s economic and political development, and ambitions.
These points should help to inform the American strategy towards China.
Basic politics in reality
First, it’s important that Biden keep the expectations of cooperation grounded in reality. Xi’s China will not do anything that is not explicitly in the state’s interest. This leaves few overlapping areas of interest for the two countries.
The most important is climate change. In an ideal world, American and European technologies would combine with low-cost, large-scale Chinese production to move the world away from fossil fuels.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. Between the theft of Chinese intellectual property, the inability of outside actors to achieve fair market access in higher growth sectors and questionable labor practices, more active cooperation on clean technologies is unlikely. The best that can be hoped for is that both sides agree not to actively undermine each other’s efforts and come together on shared emissions targets and technology standards.
It would be easier if America and Europe had a common approach to Beijing. Failure to convince Germany of its trade sanctions against China was one of the Trump administration’s biggest economic mistakes (and that says a lot). Europe and America share many of the same concerns about Chinese mercantilism, which creates an unfair playing field, and human rights issues.
Europeans are understandably frustrated by the loss of trust and cooperation during the Trump years. But the EU’s recent trade deal with China, which seems blind to incompatibilities between state surveillance capitalism and liberal European-style democracy, is a bad move.
The same goes for the new embrace of French President Emmanuel Macron to Russia. Given the historical ties between Europe and Asia, it is easy to imagine closer ties between the two regions. But it will come at a huge cost for the declared values of Europe.
Brussels knows it, and Biden is expected to continue pushing for a reset in transatlantic relations, as well as a “coalition of the willing.” In Asia, countries like India, Australia and Japan could work with the US and the EU to reshape supply chains and downplay China’s influence in Taiwan – where the semiconductors is already a point of conflict – and in the South China Sea.
Perhaps more importantly, America should rise to the challenge of China by building capacity at home – in education, infrastructure, high-growth technologies, and parts of the industrial ecosystem as well.
Manufacturing does not matter as some sort of silver bullet for middle class employment (robots will do more and more factory jobs), but because owning key elements of the commons industry is crucial for innovation. It is telling that China itself is increasingly focusing on maintaining its own manufacturing strategy even as services play a larger role in the economy.
As Biden said at the Munich security conference last month, the United States “will work with Beijing when it is in the interests of the United States to do so,” but “will compete from a position of strength. by rebuilding better at home ”.
The West is not going to reshape China. But that should change the way he responds to the challenge.