SINGH: Biden Is Using The Wrong Tools To Counter China

Manisha Singh Global Policy Consultant
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“Candid, straightforward and useful” are the words President Joe Biden chose to describe his relationship with President Xi Jinping during their meeting in San Francisco. It’s an interesting characterization considering the only transparent aspect of Chinese governance is its intent to unseat America as a global leader. Xi’s response to Biden was that planet Earth is big enough for both countries to co-exist. The question is on whose terms.

The Biden administration primed the public with low expectations for the meeting, indicating that even resuming conversation with China would be of value. The only contemplated deliverable was resumption of military-to-military communications, which were cut off as a result of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s high profile visit to Taiwan in Aug. 2022. While it may be important, no one should be optimistic that an open phone line will deter China if it decides to invade Taiwan. Russia didn’t provide notice in Feb. 2022 when it invaded Ukraine. Any potential Chinese incursion into Taiwan will be no different.

The meeting yielded no concrete progress on economic and trade policy. Most proponents have given up resurrecting the corpse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a way to “manage competition with China.” In its stead, Team Biden created the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF). Pillar One of IPEF is labeled “Fair and Resilient Trade.” Any hope of making progress on Pillar One with partners at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit was preempted by members of Congress, many of whom see it as TPP by another name. The reality is IPEF will have as little impact as TPP would have had on America’s ability to manage the relationship with China. The solution to this bilateral plight lies not in hollow multilateral gestures, but rather in gaining strength at home.

First, America needs to regain energy independence. According to the Institute for Energy Research, in 2019, for the first time since 1957, the U.S. was energy independent, meaning that the country didn’t have to rely on foreign sources for this basic need. Energy independence can be regained by keeping existing permits in place and reducing regulatory burdens for future permitting. And it can be done within a responsible environmental framework. If external sources are tapped, they should be partner nations, not regimes like Venezuela, which work with China against America and its allies.

Second, America must have a resilient domestic economy. Reducing the tax burden on the American household and putting more money in the hands of the consumer are measures which will spur economic growth. Decreasing the regulatory weight on small business will create prosperity and employment opportunities. America needs to level the playing field for its companies to succeed. Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) should be used as a negotiating tool with China when asking for reciprocal opportunities for American companies to enter the Chinese market. America follows the rules. Everyone else should do the same.

Third, America must secure its southern border. China is exploiting the current lax policies to freely traffic deadly fentanyl into homes and schools. Preventing this is not a heavy lift for the Biden Administration. Enforcement of the southern border will stop unknown individuals and dangerous substances from entering the American bloodstream. Military confrontation and technology theft are the more obvious challenges of which most Americans are aware at this point. When it comes to the southern border, it’s unknown exactly what is entering. China is taking advantage of this.

Finally, a depleted American military emboldens Chinese dominance globally. Armed forces at full capacity embody the Reagan doctrine of peace through strength. The U.S. Navy indicates it currently has “over 280 ships ready to be deployed.” Strategic goals in the 1980s aimed for a Navy of 600 ready ships. The number peaked at 594 ships in 1987. America must work to rebuild capacity coming closer to this number of ships in the Navy as well as strategic numeric goals in the other branches of our military. 

Although the message from President Xi at APEC this week wasn’t articulated out loud, it was still incredibly clear. The current state of the Chinese economy may be weak, but their quest for global dominance at the expense of America remains strong. 

Manisha is the former Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. State Department (2017-2021). She is currently Founder and Principal of Sunstone Strategy Group. 

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.