Ukraine Conflict, ‘Spy Balloon’ and Evolving US-China Relationship
In recent weeks, tensions between Beijing and Washington seem to have escalated after the incident of an ‘alleged’ Chinese spy balloon being spotted in US airspace. The Biden Administration may not want ties with China to deteriorate further and it may also seek to find common ground on important global issues. It is likely however to continue with its tough economic stance vis-à-vis China in the run-up to the 2024 US presidential election. The important factors which will influence the trajectory of the Washington-Beijing relationship are the course of the Russia-Ukraine war and China’s stance on the same as well as China’s approach towards Taiwan.
After the meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit – held at Bali (Indonesia) — in November 2022 it seemed that both sides were keen to reduce tensions. A readout issued by US President Joe Biden after the meeting with Xi Jinping stated that the “competition should not veer into conflict“. It also categorically stated that both countries must work jointly on issues like “…. climate change, global macroeconomic stability including debt relief, health security, and global food security”
Xi Jinping, on his part, agreed with the fact that both countries need to cooperate on matters of global importance. While the Chinese President said that China did not seek to challenge the ‘existing international order’, Biden stated that there was no need for a ‘new cold war’ between China and US.
It is pertinent to note that China had cancelled the dialogues to be held with the US on issues like climate change and military issues after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022.
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China-US tensions in recent weeks
In recent weeks, tensions between Beijing and Washington seem to have escalated after the incident of an ‘alleged’ Chinese spy balloon being spotted in US airspace. US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken postponed his China visit. During his visit to Kazakhstan, Blinken also said that any Chinese firms or individuals aiding Russia would be targeted. Said Blinken: “China can’t have it both ways when it comes to … the Russian aggression in Ukraine. It can’t be putting forward peace proposals on the one hand, while actually feeding the flames of the fire that Russia has started with the other hand,”
Quad Foreign Ministers’ statement
The G20 Foreign Ministers’ Summit in New Delhi (March 1-2, 2023) attended by Blinken was unable to come up with a joint statement due to serious differences between the West and Russia. Importantly however, a joint statement issued by Foreign Ministers of Quad (US, India, Australia and Japan) — who had met on the sidelines of the G20 – on March 3, 2023, made mention of China’s increasingly aggressive behaviour, in Asia, and also emphatically pitched in favour of peace in Ukraine while speaking against the use or threat of using nuclear weapons (alluding to Russia).
Republican Presidential candidates and their remarks on China
With the US Presidential election due in 2024 it would be important to look at some of the remarks of Republican Presidential candidates pertaining to China. Prospective Republican Candidates have been upping the ante vis-à-vis China in recent weeks. In a tweet, Republican Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley (of Indian origin) said that US aid to China should be cut, while in an op-ed written for New York Post, she referred to US assistance to China for environmental programs. Haley said that American taxpayer’s money should not be used for providing foreign aid to hostile countries such as China, Pakistan and Iraq.
During an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Haley dubbed China as a “disciplined enemy”. She also said that China needed to be held accountable for COVID-19.
Another Republican presidential candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy (also of Indian origin) went a step ahead of Haley and said that: “If we want to declare independence from China, that means we got to be willing to ban most US businesses from doing business in China until the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) falls or until the CCP radically reforms itself…”
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Tough economic measures taken by the Biden Administration
While many Republicans have alluded towards the Biden administration being soft vis-à-vis China, US President Joe Biden is likely to sign an executive order which will restrict US investment in advanced technologies that have national security applications. A specific example of these advanced technologies is next-generation military capabilities, which could help China in the sphere of military decision-making. One of the important economic measures the Biden Administration had taken was the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 which seeks to invest $250 billion towards strengthening US domestic semiconductor manufacturing, design and research with the objectives of benefitting the US economy, safeguarding US national security and enhancing US economic competitiveness. Above all, the CHIPS act seeks to hit China’s semiconductor industry.
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While it is true that US-China relations will be impacted by important developments, including the Russia-Ukraine war, Democrats will keep a close watch on the Republican Campaign and would not want to be perceived as soft vis-à-vis China. While the Biden Administration would want to keep manageable relations with China and find common ground on important global issues — as discussed earlier — it is likely to take tough economic measures vis-à-vis China, especially in the realm of technology, in the run-up to the US presidential election. The important factors which will influence the trajectory of the Washington-Beijing relationship are the course of the Russia-Ukraine war and China’s stance on the same as well as China’s approach towards Taiwan.
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About the author
Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi-based Policy Analyst. He is associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonepat, Haryana.