Is Biden too soft on China?

If you ask Republicans, they’ll say yes, but that doesn’t mean much. These days, they’re not right about much of anything. And because everything they do comes across as partisan sniping, when they claim “Biden is soft on China,” that immediately provokes skepticism.

Overall, Americans are comfortable with having Biden in charge of foreign policy; see poll results here. But when it comes to China, there’s legitimate grounds for criticism. The Hill points out that “lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have identified China as the gravest national security threat to the United States.” (Read story here.) This is an issue on which there’s bipartisan cooperation in Congress (story here).

The western democracies, the U.S. included, have a track record of misjudging China’s intentions. “Liberal democracies had long hoped that the Chinese Communist Party would soften if it engaged in the U.S.-led world order, but Beijing has only entrenched its authoritarianism,” Newsweek says. (Read article here.) Hong Kong. The Uighurs. Beijing’s threats against Taiwan, and its military buildup. There’s nothing warm and fuzzy about any of this.

And, of course, the CCP is heir to the deadliest legacy of any regime in history: More people were killed under Mao than Stalin or Hitler. The current leadership cut their teeth in politics under Maoist dictatorship, and they’re not democrats.

Trump got tougher with China, although his motives were largely mercantile; he’s not much of a crusader for human rights. Biden, Newsweek says, “has vowed to take a tougher line, confronting Beijing on its human rights abuses, trade malpractices, territorial disputes and handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” given the obvious failure of the other approach.

“But the Pew poll found that Americans are not yet convinced” by his pronouncements. “Just over half (53 percent) are confident in Biden’s ability to deal with China, with 46 percent saying they are not confident. Only 19 percent are very confident in Biden’s ability to make good decisions on Beijing.” The 81% who aren’t obviously includes a good many people who are neither Republicans nor Trump supporters.

Biden is taking a nuanced approached to China, working with them where we can, and confronting them when we must. One way his policy is far superior to Trump’s is recognizing we can’t do it alone and need the involvement, help, and support of our allies — the other democracies. It’s also wiser to look beyond America’s selfish interest at the global ramifications of China’s ambitions.

But I think a good deal of the engagement he still thinks is possible may be just wishful thinking. China isn’t interested in being a good global citizen. It’s a ruthless, inhumane state seeking advantage wherever it can find it, and isn’t ruling out achieving its goals by military means. One of those goals is replacing the United States as the leader of the world order.

These days, GOP politico Nikki Haley is comparing China to 1930s Germany (see blog article here); that may be stretching things, but if her point is that China is a country we can’t reach accommodations with consistent with our values, she’s probably right. The gulf between the U.S. and China is likely to grow wider and more adversarial in the years ahead, and we need to revamp our trade, economic, military, and foreign policies accordingly.

Photo: Will this be the decade of the Great China Freeze?

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