Biden Escalates Tensions While China Begs for Restraint

May 28th, 2021 - by Dave DeCamp /

Biden’s Top Asia Official Says Engagement With China Is Over

Dave DeCamp /

 (May 26, 2021) — The White House’s top official for Asia said on Wednesday that the era of US engagement with China is over, and now, the two countries’ relationship will be defined by competition.

“The period that was broadly described as engagement has come to an end,” said Kurt Campbell, the head of Indo-Pacific affairs on the National Security Council. Speaking at an event hosted by Stanford University, Campbell said US policy towards China will now follow a “new set of strategic parameters” and that “the dominant paradigm is going to be competition.”

Campbell blamed the shift in policy on Chinese President Xi Jinping and said Beijing is shifting its policies to “harsh power, or hard power.” Campbell said the best way to confront China is “to work with allies, partners, and friends.” 

Boosting military cooperation with allies in Asia is key to the Biden administration’s China policy. As part of this strategy, the US is strengthening the group known as Quad, whose members include the US, Australia, India, and Japan. President Biden held the first-ever summit between Quad leaders virtually in March. Campbell said the US is planning to convene an in-person Quad summit for this fall.

In the Obama administration, Campbell was the top Asia diplomat in the State Department and is seen as the architect of what became known as the “pivot” to Asia. While President Obama began reshuffling some resources to the Indo-Pacific to challenge China, his disastrous interventions in the Middle East got him bogged down, and the pivot was not fully realized.

Campbell says Biden’s Asia pivot — which is a continuation of Trump’s — is for real. “For the first time, really, we are now shifting our strategic focus, our economic interests, our military might more to the Indo-Pacific,” he said.

The Pentagon recently identified China as the top “pacing threat” facing the US military, and military leaders are repeating the mantra. President Biden has also made it clear that China is his top foreign policy priority. In his first address to Congress, Biden said the US is in competition with China to “win the 21st century.” To compete with China, Biden said he told President Xi that the US will militarize the Indo-Pacific “just as we do with NATO in Europe.”

China Tells US to Scale Back Military Presence to Ease Tensions

US military activity in Chinese-claimed waters has increased since Biden came into office

Dave DeCamp /

(May 27, 2021) — On Thursday, China’s Defense Ministry said the US should reduce military activity in the Indo-Pacific region if it is sincere about reducing tensions. The comments came after reports said China rejected US attempts to set up high-level military talks.

Secretary of Lloyd Austin reportedly made three failed attempts to contact Xu Qiliang, the vice-chairman of China’s Central Military Commission. A Chinese military source told The South China Morning Post that Austin should have asked for Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe, which could be part of why Beijing hasn’t responded.

When asked about US attempts to speak with China’s top military officials, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Tan Kefei said, “The US cannot claim to want more defense hotlines on the one hand, while on the other hand continuing to increase military deployments in the Asia-Pacific and frequently conducting close-in reconnaissance of China — even deliberately initiating dangerous circumstances where vessels and aircraft nearly collide.”

US warships have been closely monitoring Chinese vessels in the South China Sea, and US spy planes are constantly buzzing near China’s coast. Last month, China’s Defense Ministry said this activity had increased under Biden. Tan called on the US to scale back its military activity. 

“We call on the US to be consistent with its words and actions, show sincerity, increase communication and meet China halfway in order to manage differences and promote healthy and stable relations between our two militaries,” he said.

Tan said the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific policy “intentionally hypes up conflict and confrontation” by encouraging new military alliances and “cliques.” The US is boosting cooperation with the Quad, whose members are the US, India, Australia, and Japan. The Quad is seen as a possible foundation for a NATO-Style alliance in Asia.

Biden has made it clear that forming an anti-China military alliance is his goal. In his first address to Congress, Biden said he told Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US will militarize the Indo-Pacific “just as we do with NATO in Europe.”

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