United States and China, implications for the Caribbean and the Americas
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(27 January 2021) — As the Biden Administration extricate the US from Donald Trump’s discordant China ‘policy’, a new paradigm in US-China relations emerges; grounded in diplomatic statecraft and not in confrontation. The details of President Joseph Biden Administration’s China policy are yet to be spelled out in full details, but early indications are the US will work in partnership with traditional allies to pressure China on many fronts. Unlike his predecessor, President Biden believes in the value and use of diplomacy, and in alliances with western democracies, to achieve global economic and geopolitical goals especially when dealing with issues at the center of future US policy on China. Unlike the shambolic nature of lobbing incoherent statements and meaningless threats at China by Trump and his diplomatic statecraft-deficient Secretaries of State, President Biden’s China policies will be developed and executed by a cadre of competent subject-matter and diplomatic experts.
Biden’s future China policy
So far, we may derive some sense of what to expect on Biden Administration’s China policy. There will be focus on China’s trade policies, and there will be special attention paid to China’s global economic expansion and growing geopolitical influence in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America. China’s relations with Cuba, Venezuela, and other close alliances in the Americas will attract special attention. There will be no free ride for China. The Biden Administration will no doubt engage in diplomacy, backed by economic and security inducements to wean some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean away from China. The Biden Administration, working closely with other western democracies, will collectively force China to adhere to international rules, thereby leveling the field for economic and trade engagement.
Trump’s failed China policy
Trump, not only made adversaries of traditional economic and geopolitical allies, but consistently insulted China on many fronts. And, the Trump administration had no policy of constructive engagement with China on issues critical to US-China relations. Trump’s failure is most evident in the trade war he launched with China. America’s farmers and manufacturers suffered tremendous losses; and American consumers and taxpayers bore the financial burden of Trump’s tariffs. Trump’s attempt to bail out American farmers, while lying about who bore the cost, did not compensate for current and long-term losses the farmers faced. China switched to sourcing agricultural products in South America and elsewhere. This shift in China’s agricultural supply chain will require changes in US policy , but it will take a long time for American farmers to recover sales levels of the pre-Trump era in the huge China market.
Balancing US-China policy
The road ahead to normalization of US-China trade relations will be a difficult one. The path to a balanced US-China policy is strewn by a number of non-trade and economic issues. Cyber security threats by China will be prominent on the agenda and difficult to resolve. A backdrop to Biden Administration’s policy will be China’s egregious human rights violations against the Uyghurs, a Muslim minority; described broadly in the human rights community as ‘crimes against humanity’.
Another matter of greatest concern for the Biden Administration is the growth and sophistication of China’s military capability, and projection of China’s military might in the South China Sea and the Asian region. China’s territorial claims in the region, backed by its military deployments and show of force, are areas of deep security concerns for the United States and allies in the region, such as Japan and South Korea. The future of Taiwan is also in the balance. I expect China to continue tightening its restrictions on Taiwan, including for countries which recognize Taiwan as a sovereign state. Already, after only a day on the job, prompted by urgent security concerns and China’s recent military activities in the Asian region, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was on the phone to US Asian allies to promote stronger military ties.
President Biden’s decision to return the United States to the Paris Agreement on climate change will return the US to global leadership on the global climate crisis, as was the case under the Obama-Biden Administration. Climate Change was declared a US national security issue by president Obama’s Secretary of Defense. President Biden has declared it an existential threat, which explains the urgency with which solutions must be pursued. US leadership on the climate crisis will factor significantly in US-China relations, and demands will be made by US and European allies, working together, to bring China, and other major greenhouse gas contributing countries, into doing a great deal more to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Actions already taken demonstrate that the Biden Administration will lead by example and quickly resuscitate US credibility, globally. Countries in the Caribbean and the Americas facing the dangers of climate change will see significant benefits.
Implications for the Caribbean
Generally, actions taken by the US have collateral implications for other countries, more often than not significantly impacting small states and small economies. US neighbors in the Caribbean and the Americas must be keenly aware – ever watchful – as to whether actions by Washington will benefit or hurt them. They must position themselves to take advantage of those actions from which positive outcomes will accrue; and they must be constantly aware and be prepared to react to and counter actions that will impact hem negatively.
Countries in the Caribbean and the Americas must be particularly wary of all aspects of the China policy pursued by the Biden Administration in the region and globally. Issues related to China’s economic expansion in the region, China’s growing trade with countries in the Caribbean and the Americas, and military alliances in the region, will receive a great deal of attention from the Biden Administration. I expect a robust diplomatic initiative backed by economic and security programs to induce, rather than attempt to force, a re-orientation of the bilateral relations each country in the region now has with China. The Biden Administration will not expect sudden changes, but will expect positive responses from key countries in the region.
The Biden Administration will strengthen old partnerships, and, for countries which sacrificed their credibility on the altar of expediency, just to get along with the Trump Administration, will be provided opportunities to resuscitate trust and credibility in their bilateral relations with the US. Credibility and coherence counts in the exercise of a country’s foreign policy, and some countries in the region have fallen short. In order for these countries to demonstrate credibility in switching from their unqualified embrace of Trump’s hemispheric policies to embrace of the Biden Administration, they may be faced with the need to make hard political decisions, including consideration of changes in their messengers. Oftentimes, it’s an uphill task to change messaging while using compromised and, in some cases, misguided messengers.
© 2021 Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post
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