Politics & Policy

A New Consensus on China?

Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds as people receive recognitions during a meeting regarding the coronavirus outbreak, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, September 8, 2020. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters)

The Trump administration is working to make its hawkish China policy the new normal.

The administration’s record on China is decidedly mixed. Withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a poorly conceived trade war and fruitless trade negotiations, and disgraceful presidential tweets puffing up the CCP and its ruthless general secretary Xi Jinping all detracted from fully realizing the vision of a 2017 national-security document for strategic competition with the People’s Republic.

And yet the administration has confronted the Party-state’s bid for military dominance, advocated on behalf of pro-democracy activists and persecuted minorities, and, crucially, led a fight against Beijing’s efforts to export its authoritarian model through global adoption of its technological censorship regime and cooptation of foreign elites and institutions.

For too long, the CCP sought and received special accommodations in trade, diplomacy, and its foreign influence operations as the rest of the world accepted that state of affairs as normal.

One of the participants in that old order was Joe Biden. In the current political environment, he seems to have shelved some of his previous delusions. Still, although his campaign put out a number of solid statements on these issues, and although he recently told the New York Times that he would not “make any immediate moves” to undo the Trump administration’s work on China, the soundness of Team Biden on this question is doubtful.

In October, the president-elect said the “biggest competitor is China” but that Russia is the biggest threat to the United States. Jake Sullivan, his intended national-security adviser, tweeted in support of Australia this week as the U.S. treaty ally faces down an outrageous CCP bullying campaign — but didn’t specifically name the Chinese in his post. And it remains to be seen if U.S. climate czar (and self-styled master negotiator) John Kerry will seek a grand bargain with the environmentally destructive Party leadership, requiring compromises in areas unrelated to carbon emissions.

As Biden prepares to take office, the Trump team is moving to try to entrench what it hopes, rightly, will be a new consensus approach to China. This week alone, it issued multiple new, significant policies to do that.

On Friday, the State Department announced that it would impose visa restrictions on individuals involved in Beijing’s pernicious “united front” foreign influence work from receiving visas to enter the United States. This move came on the heels of new rules this week limiting the maximum length of visas for CCP members to one month.

These narrowly tailored visa restrictions alleviated concerns that an all-encompassing ban on the CCP’s more than 90 million members from entering the United States would sweep up ordinary people. Instead, this approach targets Party leaders, immediate family, and those who truly pose a threat. Contrary to Democrats’ claims that such visa restrictions are racist and xenophobic, they actually demonstrate solidarity with the people of China against those most responsible for the ruling regime’s human-rights atrocities.

On Thursday, the Pentagon announced that it had added four companies — including a semiconductor manufacturer and a national oil firm — to a government blacklist, alleging that they collaborate with the Party’s military arm. This is recognition of the fact that no Chinese enterprise can exist independent of the CCP’s political and military ambitions.

The administration also this week implemented a ban on cotton imports from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, the shadow government and farming collective that governs swaths of the Xinjiang region and has significant involvement in the genocide and slave-labor scheme there. Not only does this deter multinational corporations from doing business in China’s West, it also strikes at a key strategic node in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Meanwhile, work on deepening U.S. global partnerships to counter Beijing has continued. Last month, the U.S. and Taiwan struck an agreement to establish an economic dialogue that touches on areas including semiconductors and 5G technology. And the State Department’s Clean Network initiative has continued apace, adding Brazil to the ranks of the now 50 countries that are working with the United States to sideline CCP-tainted technology.

Other possibilities include issuing a formal determination that the crimes against the Uyghurs constitute a genocide, targeting banks that serve CCP stooges in Hong Kong under new sanctions authorities created this year (a potential move that’s become even more salient with the imprisonment of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong this week), and facilitating the immigration and resettlement of persecuted peoples fleeing the Party’s grasp.

At the end of the day, none of this sticks unless the Biden team wants to stay the course. It will be in our interest — and that of the region and ultimately the Chinese people — if it does.