‘It has become a cliché in U.S. policy circles that the best China policy is to invest in core U.S. capabilities: education, infrastructure, and research and development,’ writes Evan Medeiros of Georgetown University in ‘How to Craft a Durable China Strategy,’ in Foreign Affairs. (The entire analysis is excellent and well worth reading.)
- ‘Congress, however, largely lacks the political will and unity to do so.’
- ‘As a result, many, including Biden, are calling for a new moon landing–like program to galvanize support for such investments.’
‘Competing with Beijing could be that mission, but generating widespread political support for that goal may require framing China as a global threat akin to the Soviet Union.’
- ‘In other words, the very arguments needed to generate such investments may also require turning China into an implacable foe.’
- ‘The United States would therefore get the investment needed to compete but at the cost of generating enduring confrontation.’
And you might think President Biden did just that when he introduced his $2.25 trillion ‘America Jobs Plan’ when you read headlines like this from Axios:
- ‘Biden builds infrastructure pitch around China challenge.’
More accurate however is Matthew Choi’s assessment in Politico, ‘Biden sells his infrastructure package,’ where he writes:
- ‘Biden threw a bone to the China hawks, portraying infrastructure as a test of America’s ability to prove its mettle versus the communist state and show it can deliver on both infrastructure and combating climate change.'
- ‘ “That's what competition between America and China and the rest of the world is all about. It's a basic question. Can democracy still deliver for their people?” he asked. “I believe we can.” ’
- ‘In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War Two. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs.’
- With a tie-in to geopolitics: ‘It will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interests, and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.’
Given the difficulties Mr. Biden faces in getting the Plan passed by Congress, he may have erred by not tying more closely to the China challenge.
- After years of candidate and former President Trump’s drumbeat, the American people are aware the threat China poses.
- A recent Pew Poll found: ‘Roughly nine-in-ten U.S. adults (89%) consider China a competitor or enemy, rather than a partner.’
- Most Americans don’t know a lot about ‘Made in China 2025,’ but they do know more generally that China has been rapidly beefing up its capabilities to compete with the U.S.
Mr. Biden may have been trying to avoid, as Dr. Meideiros suggests, branding China ‘an implacable foe,’ thereby giving himself some policy breathing room, especially for potential areas of cooperation, like climate change.
- But by not so doing, even a bit, he also missed an opportunity to rally Americans to support his plan for more than just the otherwise excellent reasons he lays out: The Plan ‘builds a fair economy that gives everybody a chance to succeed, and it’s going to create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world.’
The China challenge is clearly one of the main causes for Mr. Biden’s urgency in realizing the Plan.
- By not explaining more directly both the challenge and how the Plan aims to meet it, Mr. Biden missed an opportunity – and maybe passage of the Plan itself.