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China Wants to Set the Rules of the Road for the U.S. in Asia

China limita a USA

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In a strong statement by its Secretary of State, Yang Jiechi, China threatened the Biden-Harris administration with continuing Trump-driven policies on “issues such as human rights, the response to the coronavirus and what he called U.S. interference in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang.”

In his speech at the World Economic Forum, Xi Jinping, the Chinese regime leader, warned the United States against what he called confrontation, which he said: “will lead us to a dead end.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made statements regarding China’s mishandling of Covid-19 information and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

Blinken added that the United States “should offer refuge to Hong Kong residents facing repression in the former British colony, as the United Kingdom began to do on Sunday,” the press reported.

Since Joe Biden’s inauguration in the White House, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has challenged the United States in seeking to change the policies imposed by Trump.

While there is still skepticism from American allies about the policies Biden will execute in Asia, democratic activists and leaders appeal to the robust American institutionality to defend against Beijing’s coercion.

Propaganda against America in Asia

The turmoil in Washington during the transition from Trump to Biden has served the Chinese Communist Party to strengthen anti-democratic propaganda and threaten American allies in the region.

According to analysts, the CCP portrays China as a system that works while exposing that the American model is broken. “China has contributed to stability, the Chinese argue; the United States is chaos, violence, and instability.”

The propaganda has worked to the extent that, for example, following the military coup in Myanmar, the governments of Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia did not respond as forcefully as the West, as they do not see the U.S. as a democratic beacon, following Trump’s impeachments and the Capitol Hill takeover, according to Bloomberg.

Asia - CCP - USA - El American
A military vehicle blocks the road leading to the Parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar February 2, 2021. (Efe)
The Chinese Communist Party sets the rails for the U.S.

The press reported that Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan “told U.S. business leaders that China seeks a relationship of mutual respect and free of conflict.”

¨Wang was uncompromising in describing China’s model of governance as correct, and was emphatic with the message to the United States: here are the rules of the road.”

The Wall Street Journal

China has dealt major blows to the United States in the Indo-Pacific region. On the one hand, the growing support of American businesspeople for CCP measures, Europe’s trade deal with China, and the Myanmar coup.

The Biden Administration has been clear that it will handle relations with China backed by a democratic bloc in which it plans to include the European Union. The old continent’s trade agreement with Beijing, however, has left Biden’s proposal a non-starter.

First of all, the business lobby in Washington is trying to stop the United States’ sanctions on Chinese companies. The CCP offers sufficient advantages to businesspeople who are willing to hire forced labor or go against U.S. democratic values.

A Uyghur protester holds up a sign during an anti-CCP protest.

Europe, for its part, as a result of the trade agreement with China, is not in a position to sanction the CCP nor to defend its victims as Australia and the United Kingdom have done.

Myanmar’s coup led by Min Aung Hlaing has set off alarm bells for U.S. allies in Asia.

Biden’s positive rapprochements in Asia

In addition to pressuring China on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the Biden administration has crossed the “red line” by continuing some of Trump’s policies. For example, Biden’s formal invitation to the Taiwanese Ambassador to his inauguration for the first time since 1979, or the White House’s commitment to defend Japanese territories claimed by China.

Analysts see Biden’s position on Asia closer to Trump than to Obama.

Beijing should expect more continuity in China policy from Washington, rather than the committed effort in many other policy areas to erase Donald Trump’s legacy.

Richard McGregor / Nikkei Asia

The reason behind this is that China under Xi Jinping has become more powerful and assertive in the economic, diplomatic and military fields.

Another fundamental reason why Biden prefers a tougher stance on China is the burden of Obama’s failure in the region. According to analysts, the Asian giant’s strength in economic matters is largely due to Obama’s missteps in Asia.

Democratic leaders’ fears in Asia about the Biden-Harris Administration stem from the fact that the Obama administration has been criticized “for failing to recognize the breadth of the CCP’s strategic ambitions and for unnecessarily negotiating progress on climate change issues but to the detriment of the U.S. by allowing Beijing to run more freely in the South China Sea.”

El American - Chinese artificial islands
Artificial islands created by Beijing in disputed waters in the South China Sea, east of Palawan, Philippines. The Permanent Court of Arbitration has ruled in favor of the Philippines and against China.(EFE)

The U.S. failure in 2012 in the disputed area near Scarborough Shoal, adjacent to the Philippines, marked China’s rebound in the region. In the deal sponsored by Obama and his advisors, some of whom are part of the Biden administration, such as Kurt Campbell, Manila was urged to withdraw its ships from the disputed area while being misled by China, since Chinese ships still remain in the area.

The statement on Taiwan issued by the Department of State on January 23rd has been significant to analysts and politicians in the region for “laying down markers on an issue that could define bilateral relations,” along the same lines as Trump.

Camilo Bello is a consultant focused on Asia Pacific studies and has experience in strategic management. He has studied law in Colombia and is currently pursuing studies in language and history at National Taiwan Normal University. He has collaborated with Students for Freedom in Hong Kong and Taiwan // Camilo es consultor enfocado en estudios de Asia Pacífico y experiencia en gestión estratégica. Cuenta con estudios en Derecho en Colombia y actualmente se encuentra realizando estudios en lenguaje e historia en National Taiwan Normal University. Colaborador de Estudiantes por la Libertad en Hong Kong y Taiwán

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