U.S. stance on China persists in rigour under Biden leadership, echoes Trump era measures

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25th February 2024 – (Washington) The U.S.’s strategic posture toward China has evolved into a more nuanced yet equally determined approach under President Joe Biden’s administration. Despite the political divide, a bipartisan consensus in Washington indicates a continued trajectory toward a sterner US policy against Beijing’s economic and technological ambitions.

Experts predict that this unyielding stance will remain irrespective of the occupant in the White House, whether the incumbent Biden or his predecessor, Donald Trump, makes a return.

According to Joshua Meltzer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “There is a clear tendency in Washington towards increased hawkishness towards China.” This sentiment is reflected in the Biden administration’s maintenance of Trump-era tariffs, implementation of export controls to hinder China’s semiconductor advancements, and restrictions on investments flowing into China.

The administration is simultaneously seeking to bolster domestic self-sufficiency, particularly within the clean energy sector, and is expected to take further steps concerning data transfer regulations.

In conversations with AFP, Meltzer emphasised Congressional pressure to intensify these measures.

The intensity of the U.S.’s policy toward China is driven by policy considerations rather than partisan politics, notes Jamieson Greer, a partner at law firm King & Spalding and former chief of staff to the U.S. Trade Representative during the Trump administration. In Washington, there are two prevailing views: one considers China a fundamental threat to American economic and national security, warranting broad protective actions; the other advises caution in overestimating the China threat and in adopting stringent trade and economic policies.

This shift in perception towards China has been growing for nearly a decade and became significantly pronounced during the 2016 election cycle with Trump’s outspoken stance on China-related trade issues.

While both Biden and Trump acknowledge the risks associated with China, their policies would likely diverge in their execution. The Biden administration is not seeking a comprehensive reform agreement with China but rather an alignment with allies to manage the reality of China’s rise.

Meltzer also pointed out a focus on security risk mitigation under Biden, which contrasts with Trump’s preference for leveraging US power to negotiate behavioural changes from China, as evidenced by the Phase One trade deal.

Should Trump re-enter office, many anticipate an increase in tariffs on Chinese goods, potentially surpassing 60%, which could provoke Chinese countermeasures and disrupt the global trade dynamic.

Under Biden, there is an indication to persist with existing measures while being precise and targeted in future strategies. A second term could also open avenues for cooperation with China on global issues such as climate change, potentially relieving domestic pressure to adopt a hardline stance to counter Trump’s criticism.

Domestically, the US is likely to continue its pursuit of technological leadership. While a Trump administration might show less enthusiasm for initiatives like the CHIPS Act or for onshoring critical supply chains, both administrations would be expected to uphold and broaden technology controls.

Paul Triolo, associate partner for China at Albright Stonebridge Group, commented that these controls would extend into sectors such as biotechnology and smart vehicles. This comes as Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently highlighted security concerns associated with Chinese-made electric vehicles and their data collection practice