U.S. President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 7) that the United States is trying to compete with China and not come into conflict, but he also warned that it would take steps to protect U.S. sovereignty if China threatened U.S. sovereignty. Observers of US-China relations pointed out that the Biden administration’s basic China policy will remain unchanged. In early 2023, the prospect of a recovery in US-China relations that has just been outlined is becoming increasingly bleak.
Much of the State of the Union address revolves around competition with China
President Biden’s State of the Union address this time focuses on domestic problems in the United States rather than China’s challenges. His speech highlighted his own economic and legislative achievements, including that U.S. unemployment is at a 53-year low, manufacturing jobs are returning, gasoline prices have fallen sharply, and inflation has eased. The $1 trillion Infrastructure Act, passed in 2021, went into effect. Last year, two major pieces of legislation were passed that were supported by President Biden – the Chips and Science Act and the Lower Inflation Act. Three years after the coronavirus pandemic, life has largely returned to normal for most Americans. He also called on Republicans, who are taking back the House of Representatives, to work with him to raise the U.S. debt ceiling.
However, Kenneth Lieberthal, a well-known American expert on China issues and former director and senior researcher of the Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, believes that a significant portion of President Biden’s State of the Union address actually revolves around how the United States wins the competition with China is unfolding, which mainly includes economic policy and the Biden administration’s major legislative agenda.
“I think the point (of the speech) is that the U.S. is willing to refocus its domestic and foreign policy on competing with China,” he told VOA. , we are ready to implement the U.S. export control policy, almost all economic policies such as the procurement of materials in the U.S. and also in the high-tech sector, all of which apply to some extent to compete with China. And it does it the way Biden wants it. ”
With the right policies, “we are now in the strongest position in decades to compete with China or any other country in the world,” Biden said.After mentioning in his speech that the United States supports Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression, President Biden immediately spoke about the relationship between the United States and China. “We have made it clear – and I have made it clear to President Xi – I have spoken to him personally many times that we are looking for competition, not conflict,” he said.
Craig Singleton, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a bipartisan think tank, said that after the balloon incident, President Biden made it clear in his State of the Union address that his China strategy would remain largely unchanged. In an email to VOA, he said, “President Biden has made it clear in his section on U.S.-China relations that he is ‘trying to compete with China, not to get into conflict.’ The challenge will require a non-partisan, whole-of-society effort.”
However, Singleton also pointed out that Biden’s speech did not include a clear definition of winning competition with China and “fell into the trap of using competition between great powers as an end rather than a means.”
Balloon incident puts pressure on Biden administration
About a week before President Biden delivered his State of the Union address, a Chinese reconnaissance balloon violated U.S. airspace for several days, attracting great attention from both parties, public opinion and the public in the U.S. Congress. Although the balloon was eventually successfully launched, the discussion about whether the Biden administration handled the incident in a timely and consistent manner has not disappeared, which has also put pressure on President Biden himself.
President Biden did not mention the Chinese balloon incident by name in his speech. “I am determined to work with China where it promotes American interests and benefits the world,” he said. “But let’s make no mistake: as we made clear last week, we will act to protect our sovereignty if China threatens our sovereignty.” Land. We did it.”
Singleton criticized President Biden for failing to formulate concrete steps the administration would take to prevent similar incidents from happening again. “He (Biden) has given no assurances to the concerned American public about what concrete steps he intends to take after China’s years of covert surveillance campaign targeting America’s most sensitive military installations,” he said.
But Kanru Lee, who served as the president’s special assistant and senior director of the National Security Council’s Asia Office in the Clinton administration, believes criticism of President Biden on the Chinese balloon issue is partisan.
“I think the criticism of letting this balloon travel throughout the United States and then shooting it down when it hits the Atlantic coast is frankly really partisan and unwise and a reflection of American domestic politics,” he said. , not in foreign policy or the genuine national security interests of the United States.”
Republicans criticized Biden for showing weakness toward Beijing by shooting down the balloon after it flew over the entire United States. Beijing criticized Washington’s use of force to bring down the balloon as an overreaction.
In his State of the Union address, President Biden stressed that China’s challenge should be what unites the two parties. “Winning the competition should bring us all together. We are facing major challenges from all over the world,” he said.
Referring to President Biden’s State of the Union address, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said at a regular press conference on Feb. 8, “We reject the use of competition to define all Sino-U.S. relations and slander a country under the banner of competition.” “.
Li Kanru said Beijing’s handling of the balloon incident is becoming increasingly important. If there is an opportunity to take a softer or harder approach to solve the problem, China almost always opts for a tougher approach. This will help to ease bilateral relations. Not helpful at all.
The space for stable relations between the United States and China will be further squeezed in the future
Before the balloon accident, Washington and Beijing had planned to loosen their tense bilateral ties. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken would visit China to follow up on the meeting between Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping last November in Bali, Indonesia. Some tensions in the relationship. The visit will now be postponed indefinitely.
Bonnie Glaser, a well-known expert on U.S.-China relations in Washington and director of the Indo-Pacific Program at the German Marshall Foundation, told VOA that President Biden’s goal of determining a final outcome for U.S.-China relations faces challenges as relations deteriorate further. “The domestic politics of both countries and their agendas in the coming months will squeeze the space for a stable relationship,” she said.
In the coming months, the new speaker of the US House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy of California, will be able to visit Taiwan. This will almost certainly further exacerbate tensions between the US and China.