US President Joe Biden has been in office for five months now, and his administration has made many damaging moves toward China. The Biden administration's China policy is seeking a long-term qualitative change in terms of strategy.
Going back 30 years, the Clinton administration, which came to power in January 1993, attempted to adopt a hostile policy toward China based on an anti-communist ideology and West-centered human rights diplomacy. But China had a strong will and determination to confront the US. It has been sticking to the path of reform and opening-up, as well as rising peacefully. This eventually made the Clinton administration realize the importance of mutual respect, mutually beneficial cooperation between the US and China, and that the only option for dealing with China-US relations was "constructive engagement."
The US' policy of engagement with China carries the following characteristics.
First, despite differences in ideology and national governance systems, China and the US need to respect each other's governing forces, development paths and choices on systems.
Second, the mutual opening of markets and deepening of economic and trade relations between the two countries can promote mutually beneficial cooperation and common development. The expansion and proximity of economic and trade ties is the "ballast" of the relationship between Beijing and Washington.
Third, mutual trust, engagement and cooperation between China and the US are important supporting forces to deal with their domestic and international challenges.
Fourth, the differences between the two countries are not insurmountable and decisive obstacles.
Fifth, the engagement policy has opened the door to broad, vibrant and deep exchanges between the peoples of the two countries and between two societies.
From the Clinton to Obama administration, the US' engagement policy with China has shaped deep and extensive economic, trade and social ties between the two countries. It has also provided strategic assurance for peace and prosperity in East Asia. Moreover, the policy has helped China reach out to international markets and further integrate into the world. This has been one of the most important external environmental factors regarding China's economic take-off over the past decades.
Deepening exchanges and cooperation with China have also made important contributions to the stability and development of the US. From the early 1990s to 2020, the inflation rate in the US has been limited to a low level. This is directly related to the outsourcing of the American manufacturing industry, as well as the importation of substitute industrial and domestic manufactured goods supported by a strong dollar. From the 1990s to the present, China has been one of the fastest industrializing countries in the world. A large number of high-quality and cheap industrial products made in China have been exported to the US. This has helped stabilize prices in the country and, to a certain extent, kept the US society basically stable despite the relatively large expansion of the middle- and low-income groups.
But today, the Biden administration determined to abandon its policy of engagement with China? Why?
First, according to US Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell, the US current administration believes that China has become the US' greatest strategic competitor. Washington will further shift the strategic focus of its economic interests and military might from Europe and the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific. As Campbell put it, "the lion's share of the history of the 21st century is going to be written in Asia." Second, he claimed that China's "harsh power" somehow, "signals that China is determined to play a more assertive role." Third, the US wants to widen the gap with China and prevent it from "exploiting" US' decline.
Behind these remarks, Campbell claimed that "the period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end" as it fears that China's continued growth will threaten US hegemony. Besides, Washington is still not ready to be "inclusive" to a rising China, whether in terms of ideas, mentality or value orientation. Moreover, facing the current political division and social confrontation in the US, the Biden administration and extreme political elites in Washington are intensifying the "China threat theory" and the suppression against China. They are even creating new Cold War-style enemies as one of the few "highlights" to promote the cooperation between the Democratic and Republican parties in US Congress and hope this will consolidate various social forces.
The Biden administration once promised that it did not want a new Cold War, but the basic approach of the US to deal with China-US relations today has exposed its unquenchable Cold War mentality. On his recent trip to Europe, at both the G7 and the EU-NATO summits, Biden framed the world today as a struggle between the liberalism of Western democratic bloc and the so-called authoritarianism of China and Russia.
As China-US relations have reached this level, the self-proclaimed beacon of democracy that repeatedly flaunted freedom, democracy and human rights has taught the Chinese people and the whole world a vivid lesson. In the face of such a US posture, it is more important for China to walk a steady and solid way and not be distracted by Washington. The current China-US relations test is not only about our strategic focus, but also our strategic wisdom.