U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26 made his long-awaited remarks on the “Administration’s Policy Toward China.” The speech was fresh on the heels of President Biden’s first visit to Asia, specifically to the Republic of Korea and Japan, the formal launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), and the leaders’ summit of the Quad countries—Australia, Japan, India and the United States. The secretary’s remarks, while highly anticipated, were more of a summary of U.S. objectives vis-a-vis China and less of an actual strategy, focused on sustaining and modernizing the international order while emphasizing the importance of the Indo-Pacific region to the United States and allies.
Blinken’s remarks outlining U.S. policy toward China were set on the backdrop of current geopolitical circumstances, the recent meetings in Washington, D.C., with ASEAN leaders, and on the heels of President Biden’s return from his visit to Korea and Japan—which was largely focused on shoring up regional economic and strategic cooperation.
In his speech, he outlined three key areas of focus:
- Investing in expanding U.S. strength through a modernized industrial strategy, aimed at sustaining and expanding economic and technological influence, more resilient supply chains and sharpening the United States’ competitive edge. This includes investments in research and demand, education and training and innovation, as well as advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing. Within this focus, Blinken stressed that, with bipartisan support, the United States can move back into a position of prominence with regard to R&D as a portion of GDP—a place where the United States once dominated but ceded the ground to China in recent years.
- Aligning with allies and partners to advance a shared vision for the future through mechanisms like the QUAD, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council, and through the G20 and the G7. Alignment includes issues including human rights, tech, climate, infrastructure, global health and inclusive economic growth. Use of the term “alignment” was key, as not all countries share the same assessment of China. Alignment is not intended to force countries to choose a specific path, but takes into consideration growing convergence about the need to approach relations with Beijing with more realism.
- Competition with China centers around the notion that China enjoys asymmetric access to the U.S. and global markets, a trend the United States wants to alter. Addressing this will require sharpening and deploying tools and trade mechanisms to preserve and grow America’s competitive edge. This includes stronger export controls, greater protections for research and science, better cyber defense and data security, and increased investment screening measures. Business will play an important role in working with the government to protect and strengthen national security through responsible growth and risk assessment.
Overlaying the need to compete with China and rebalance the scales was Blinken’s emphasis that the United States must and will continue to work with China in areas of mutual interest and for the global good such as climate, COVID-19 and the global food crisis.
Absent from the speech was a true discussion of Taiwan, which was noticeably missing from the list of participants in the IPEF. Blinken attempted to straddle the middle on Taiwan, noting that the United States remains committed to supporting a “one China” policy. At the same time, the United States on June 3 announced it would begin trade talks with Taiwan in parallel to the IPEF, seemingly an effort to empower Taiwan and demonstrate the importance of the bilateral relationship.
Reactions to the Speech
The long-awaited speech on China was welcomed by the foreign policy community, although many critiqued it for being short on substance. Rather than a coherent speech outlining policy priorities and objectives, Blinken’s remarks were viewed as a summary of the administration’s efforts to reengage and bolster global ties with Asia and the Indo-Pacific region in an effort to counter China’s ever-growing influence.
The United States’ allies and partners in general welcomed the remarks, with countries in Asia looking to expand their relationships with the United States. Privately, some European allies questioned the “so what” of the speech, but noted they remain committed to working with the United States on China-related issues, particularly related to national security.
What Next to Expect
Discussions and announcements on regional engagement continue, as highlighted by the focus on engaging Pacific islands that was a focus of President Biden’s June 1 meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The June 3 announcement of Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman’s trip to Asia—Republic of Korea, Philippines, Laos and Vietnam—demonstrates a commitment to deepening engagement in the region and perhaps moving the needle on IPEF substance. And Taiwan will remain an important focus for the United States, with the expected launching of trade discussions aimed at aligning commercial practices later in June. Certainly, these conversations, as well as future engagements, will have broader implications for U.S. and global companies engaged in the Indo-Pacific region.
For more details, please contact this alert's contributors. This article is Part I of a multipart series on China’s global influence and America’s foreign policy response. If you would like to be added to the distribution list to be alerted of additional articles, please click here.
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