On May 21, the last day of the Group of Seven (G7) summit held in Japan, US President Biden made a “prediction”, saying that Sino-US relations will soon “thaw”.
”Thaw” is easily reminiscent of “Frozen”. Personally, I think of the Anchorage meeting reflexively. The meeting in Alaska, which began on March 19, 2021, was the first face-to-face meeting between senior Chinese and American officials since Biden became president of the United States.
It is said that the local temperature was minus 18 degrees that day, but people who care about Sino-US relations are speculating whether the relationship between the two countries can get out of the “freeze”. Because during the Trump administration, the “temperature” of Sino-US relations has dropped to a historical low. Biden has been in the White House for more than two years, and Sino-US relations have not come out of the “freeze”. He himself must have admitted this, otherwise he would not have mentioned the “thaw”.
So why does Biden mention “thawing” now? From the perspective of the United States, this requires an analysis of the progress of the Biden administration’s China policy layout.
After Biden took office as president, the outside world has been confused for a long time about what his China policy is. At the end of May 2022, U.S. Secretary of State Blinken delivered a speech on China policy, the main content of which can be summarized as “investment, alliance, and competition.” Since then, although there are different opinions on the evaluation of policy effects, the policy thinking has become relatively clear.
On March 28, 2022, following the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate passed the American Competition Act (details are still pending as of now and have not yet been signed into law by Biden). In August of the same year, Biden successively signed the “Chip and Science Act” and “Inflation Reduction Act”. If you count the previous “Infrastructure and Employment Act” and other related bills, it is not difficult to see that the Biden administration has completed the policy process of “investment”-investment in the United States, and the rest is only policy implementation.
For Biden, mentioning the “thawing” of Sino-US relations during the G7 summit has a considerable degree of symbolic meaning. Because in Biden’s view, his China policy has gone through the “alliance” procedure. To some extent, Biden’s “thawing” theory is not to predict the trend of Sino-US relations, but to “affirm” his own policy towards China.
In Biden’s view, his China policy has gone through the “alliance” procedure. To some extent, Biden’s “thawing” theory is not to predict the trend of Sino-US relations, but to “affirm” his own policy towards China.
The English version of the joint statement issued after the G7 summit has 66 articles and nearly 20,000 words. But what the Biden administration cares most about is the part of Articles 51 and 52 related to China policy. The reason is not difficult to understand. No one would suspect that the Biden administration’s diplomacy largely revolves around the strategic competition between China and the United States.
In the China-related content, the previous media speculation about “de-risking” the Chinese economy and responding to China’s “economic coercion” are all listed. Of course, there is also not seeking to “decouple” from China. No matter how it is interpreted, this reflects the policy intentions of the United States. Since it is a joint statement, it means “joint” agreement. In other words, at least in terms of policy stance, the Biden administration has achieved a “comparison” with its allies.
This “alignment” must not be underestimated, as it could be the precursor to a “common” policy. Prior to this, under the promotion of the Biden administration, the Asia-Pacific-focused US-UK-Australia security alliance and the US-Japan-Dutch semiconductor agreement aimed at China were all alliances aimed at strategic competition. Moreover, the coordination of the US and Europe’s China policies has also gained greater visibility. It is not difficult to see that the Biden administration has built a “consensus” on its China policy in the alliance.
The next step is “competition”. This is not to say that there was no competition before, but that in the future, the Biden administration will use greater efforts to win over allies to compete with China. According to the policy intentions of the Biden administration, the competition with China will be a competition that does not slide into conflict. This requires engagement with China. In this sense, the “thaw” mentioned by Biden is about contact.
Engagement between China and the United States is of course a good thing. Recently, China has also responded positively to the US’s willingness to engage. But if the “thaw” is just contact, if the Biden administration’s diplomatic thinking toward China sticks to the logic of an alliance against China, and cannot derive the responsibilities that world powers should have, then the “thaw” does not make much sense.