White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki participates in a White House press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Psaki discussed various topics including the economic crisis that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alex Wong/Getty Images/AFP ALEX WONG / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP
When White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded to a question Monday about US-China relations, she said that “China is growing more authoritarian at home and more assertive abroad,” adding that China “is engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, blunts [US] technological edge, and threatens [US] alliances and [US] influence in international organizations.” She also noted that Washington is “starting from an approach of patience as it relates to [its] relationship with China.”
Psaki’s statement shows that the Biden administration’s view and characterization of China is virtually identical to those of the Trump administration. Psaki stressed that “We’re in a serious competition with China. Strategic competition with China is a defining feature of the 21st century,” reflecting that the Biden administration only cares about a “new approach” to holding China accountable.
This shows that Washington needs to bring its allies together to contain China, which is a bipartisan consensus in the US on its approach to China. The Chinese people need to really calm down and face the challenges in the long winter of China-US relations. The US emphasis on “patience” may have several layers of meaning. It may mean that Biden’s priority will be dealing with domestic problems such as the COVID-19 epidemic, it may also mean that the Biden administration wants to talk to China again after having communicated with their allies. Although the Biden administration resents the Trump team’s sanctions on China, they have no idea about how to deal with China either.
Even so, we think China might as well respond with patience. We have the strongest economic recovery of any major economy in the world. We have a high level of unity at home. The idea of improving relations with the US is a gesture of goodwill from China in support of global stability. But we don’t have any big and urgent problem that needs the help of the Biden administration to solve right now. China has developed a strong capacity to adapt to and bear the current state of China-US relations. If Washington is not in a hurry to make a change, why should Beijing?
From the perspective of China’s interests as a country, China-US relations depend not only on the current issues and the amount of energy involved, but also on the outcome of the strategic competition between the two countries. That is to say, if the relationship between China and the US has reached a deadlock, but not to the point of war, while China’s relative development against the US was faster, and the power gap between the two countries was constantly narrowing, then the ties between China and the US cannot be said to be bad from a strategic perspective.
In the past four years, the Trump team had continually cracked down on China and tried to decouple with China, none of which was achieved. Rather, China has made major progress while the US suffered greater strategic losses. To improve China-US relations is China’s goodwill rather than a humble request to Washington. All political elites in the US must realize this.
China should do its own things well, which is the way to show its patience and a pragmatic option to cope with pressures from the US. China should maintain its development momentum against the backdrop of the worsening bilateral relationship. This is the new strategic guidance for China’s economic performance. China should continue its reforms, and externally go against the trend of the US decoupling attempt to open up further.
In the most difficult year of 2020, foreign direct investment in China increased by 4 percent. Many big US companies plan to expand their businesses in China. All these prove that Trump’s China road map has met a dead end.
The essence of Trump’s path is to rashly advocate strategic confrontation with China. The Biden administration wants to lead the US to a new path. But if it only changes its tactics at the superficial level without adjusting US strategic thinking, it is only putting old wine in a new bottle.
If the new US government could not see that the development of China as the world’s most populous country is an inevitable trend with its reform and opening-up, if the new government fails to see China’s sincerity of abiding by international rules as a developing country, and if the new government turns a blind eye to China’s determination and ability to maintain its fundamental interests, it will face the danger of making the same strategic mistake that the Trump administration had made. We hope this will not be the case after the Biden team starts to deal with China.