Biden and China: Go big or go home

Just a few weeks into Joe Biden's presidency, he has already taken radical steps to in reverse Donald Trump's legacy.


Biden has re-joined the Paris Climate Change agreement, reversed the travel ban for people from majority Muslim nations, and allowed transgender people into the military.


While the plans deserved attention, it struck me that there seemed to be a lack of awareness about what Biden would bring to the international order. Go a step further; there is a lack of focus on what this United States President will bring to the US-China relationship.


From what the UK saw, the US-China relationship continues to be the most prominent in international relations.


Ever since the recognition of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the US always seemed to have a keen interest. From Harry S. Truman's presidency to Trump's, many believe there are only two ways of dealing with China, either a policy of containment, or of engagement.


The difference between them is that one policy sought to enclose another state's power, while the other tried to find diplomatic common ground. Yet, what doesn’t get a single mention is a combination of the best of both polices of containment and engagement.


Credit - Pixabay

Some may think this is exceedingly radical and an incredibly impossible approach to achieve. However, during times of nuance and madness, taking one policy over the other does not address these complicated nuances.


Biden does have some international priorities even if there was a lack of attention from the media. Including working towards achieving a better environmental climate, addressing human rights abuses, and confronting nuclear proliferation.


Although these goals sounded achievable, the international order's reality meant that some of these goals could be very difficult to achieve. In doing so, there may be a high chance that Biden will have to cooperate with other nations – including China.


However, by cooperating too much with China, Biden's risks not addressing some of what the country has done. Including human rights abuses against the Uighurs in Xinjiang, and those living in Hong Kong.


Not just that, but with China prioritising economic growth over climate protections, cooperation with China goes against Biden's climate change goals. If Biden is serious about achieving his international goals, pursuing either engagement or containment does not do too well on him.


By following the aggressive stance on China we have seen in the last four years, China will not work with the US on specific issues such as climate change. But by being too lenient on China, the country could get away with human rights abuses that should not be tolerated by any liberal US president.


What is certain is that Biden has a dilemma in his hands.


Credit - Pixabay

If I were in Biden's shoes, I would try to strike a balance between engaging with China on specific issues, such as climate change, while also being critical. Or following a policy of containment on other matters, such as the current Uighur crisis.


As crazy as this sounds to any international diplomat when the global status quo is as unstable as it is right now, radical solutions are the only way forward for this status quo to return to normal.


The answer to what Biden will do with China remains to be seen, but across the globe, all eyes will be on the US-China relationship in the next coming weeks.


Maybe, just maybe, a policy consisting of both engagement and containment is flicking in the background of the White House.

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