Biden's China challenge

5/6/2021 6:30:00 PM

A little more than 100 days into the Biden administration, its approach to China can be summed up in one sentence: “Be as tough on China as Trump, but recruit other countries to join team America”

Welcome, China Watchers. This week’s guest host is Geoffrey Garrett, dean of the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business and distinguished international political economist. He has previously served as the dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the business schools at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales in Australia. Garrett is also a past president of the Pacific Council on International Policy, member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a winner of the Foreign Policy Association Medal. Over to you, Geoffrey. — John Yearwood, global news editor

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A little more than 100 days into the Biden administration,its approach to China can be summed up in one sentence: “Be as tough on China as Trump, but recruit other countries to join team America.”The problem is that China is economically indispensable to many of the United States’ closest allies and friends. Most countries are sympathetic with America’s position on the China challenge, but they face a difficult choice between joining President

Joe Bidenor defending their economic interests. As a result, the U.S. will face more of an uphill battle than many expect in building an international coalition to support America intaking on China as a “strategic competitor.”China’s rise has been at least as much the result of geoeconomics as geopolitics.

Its military expansion, particularly in the East and South China Seas, is real. But it’s dwarfed by China’s economic expansion — all over the world.Thetrade statisticsare a simple and powerful guide.Roughly two-thirds of the 190 countries in the world now trade more with China than they do with the U.S., with about 90 countries doing more than twice as much trade with China as with America, according to the

in Australia.Despite all the noise about America’s economic dependence on China,the U.S. actually relies much less on trade overall, and trade with China in particular, than most of the rest of the world — including the countries Biden hopes will be linchpins in his anti-China coalition.

Today, global trade amounts to about60 percent of the world’s GDP. But trade is only one-quarter of GDP for the U.S. The U.S. is also less reliant on China trade than most countries — with roughly as much American trade with each of Canada, the European Union and Mexico as with China.

This means that the potential economic costs of confronting China are simply lower for the U.S. than they are for many other countries. That is one reason Biden seems in no hurry to end Trump’s trade war and why China policy is a rare instance of bipartisanship in Washington, D.C.

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The calculus is very different in most other global capitals. Consider the economic positioning of four countries the U.S. hopes will be at the heart of its get-tough-on-China team: America’s “Quad” security partners in the Indo-Pacific (Australia, India and Japan); and Germany, the pivotal player in the European Union.

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. Thank you to our sponsor, Intel.All of these countries are stable democracies.All share the U.S.’s concerns about China’s human rights record, military ambitions, territorial aspirations and economic mercantilism. But trade is considerably more important to all of them than it is to the U.S. — and all have China as their largest trading partner. The potential economic downside in confronting China is considerably higher for all of them than it is for America.

This complicates the strategic calculations of these countries when it comes to balancing their longstanding political and military ties to the U.S. with the newer realities of their deep economic relationships with China. These four countries will always publicly resist the notion that they must “choose” between America and China. But behind closed doors, that is what they must increasingly do.

Their choices will likely vary, however, based both on the relative importanceof their economic dependence on China compared with their national security reliance on the U.S.Australia is most firmly. The conservative government of Prime MinisterScott Morrison

has been willing to take on sacred cows in Beijing in ways most countries have not — from Hong Kong and the treatment of Uyghurs to the origins of the coronavirus and blocking Huawei from its 5G rollout. Now, the Australian government isjoining the U.S. in any war against China over Taiwan.

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In Canberra, the thinking is clear.China has become Australia’s economic lifeblood. But ever since the Pacific theater in World War II, America has been its security guarantor. In all that time, there has never been a bigger threat to regional security and Australia’s security in Asia than China is today. That Beijing has used Australia’s economic dependence on China against it — punishing Australia for speaking out on China by blocking its exports to China — only reinforces this threat. Signing on to the Biden team vis-a-vis China is an easy choice Down Under.

Germany is at the other end of the spectrum. Read more: POLITICO »

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