President Biden has framed China as a threat both to the U.S. and the liberal world order.
- His plans to deal with that threat are emerging as his administration proceeds and are at least sufficiently clear that some are bundling these into what is being called the ‘Biden Doctrine.’
In one way, whether or not Mr. Biden’s assessment of the China threat is correct is beside the point.
- The policies and actions undertaken as parts of the Biden Doctrine will have far-reaching and perhaps unintended consequences that will affect the relations between countries, investment risk, and corporate strategy, to name just three.
And, if Mr. Biden’s assessment of the China threat is correct, and the Biden Doctrine fails…well, that will mean an entirely different set of outcomes to contend with.
- Likewise, if it succeeds.
But the most likely outcome is neither the collapse of China (ala the Soviet Union) or China’s dominating the world.
- The most likely outcome will be each side having some successes and failures – with some successes becoming failures and vice versa..
- This means that operating a foreign policy or business/investment strategy over time will require constant tracking, revising, and adapting.
From the U.S. perspective, the first job is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the Biden Doctrine today.
- It would be very helpful if leading think tanks published such comprehensive analyses, each with arguments for different views, (along with regular updates) so that you could sort of triangulate and come to your own best conclusions.
- As far as I know, to date, we don’t have even one of these.
That’s what makes two essays in the latest issue of The Economist the best start we have so far.
- These are far from the couple of hundred pages we would expect from a think tank, but they do a remarkably good job of laying out the bones of the Biden Doctrine and outlining the likely problems in implementation.
- [Below you find excerpts of these essays, but you should read them in full.]
First, the Biden Doctrine.
- Essentially: Build America, Blunt China.
An obstacle to the ‘build’ part:
- ‘Ambitious as the United States Innovation and Competition Act and other new and proposed laws look in Washington, these numbers cannot compare with Chinese spending on infrastructure and industrial policy.’
Second, the obstacles.
- ‘The details of the Biden doctrine contain much to worry about—not least that it is unlikely to work.’
‘One problem is how Mr Biden defines the threat.’
- ‘The more Mr Biden uses strident rhetoric to galvanise Americans, the harder he makes his task of galvanising allies and big emerging powers like India and Indonesia.’
- ‘If forced to choose between the superpowers, some may pick China.’
- ‘Rather than imposing a decision on other countries today, Mr Biden needs to win them around.’
- ‘And his best chance of that is for America to demonstrate that it can thrive at home and be the leader of a successful and open world economy.’
‘A more fundamental problem is the China doctrine’s soft protectionism.’
- ‘This favours incumbents over competitors and is likely to weigh down the economy rather than supercharge it.’
‘A third problem is that Mr Biden’s doctrine will make America’s allies even more wary.’
- ‘If the purpose of cutting ties with China is to create good union jobs in America, allies will ask themselves what is in it for them.’
And there is one part that stimulated by own thinking about how Mr. Biden is approaching the China challenge:
- ‘The Biden administration would be better-served if it stopped paying such close-up attention to China and instead zoomed out to take a broader view of the world,’ is the gist of what Jude Blanchette of the Centre for Strategic & International Studies told The Economist.
- ‘America reacts to everything Chinese leaders do, he says: they adopt an industrial policy, America adopts an industrial policy; they secure supply chains, so does America; they have a Belt and Road Initiative, so must America.’
‘Mr Blanchette argues that America should take a different page out of Mr Xi’s playbook: talk less about its adversary and more about the world it wants to build.’
- ‘ “Xi just does not talk about America a lot. When they articulate their vision it’s not an America strategy,” he says. “It’s ‘this is the role China wants to play in the world over the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years’.” ’
‘Mr Blanchette looks to the early days of the cold war when America placed its attempts to contain the Soviet Union within a broader vision of the world.
- ‘If today it could articulate such a vision again, it might become clearer how China fits in and open up a policy shaped by America’s continuing role, rather than purely by China’s rise.’
Great advice and a useful overarching framework to hang the Mr. Biden’s actions on.
- Too bad Mr. Blanchette doesn’t work at the National Security Council.
If he did, next year you might read:
- “Biden just does not talk about China a lot. When he articulates his vision it’s not a China strategy. It’s ‘this is the role American wants to play in the world over the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years’.”
And that would good.
- As much as I feel Biden is on the track and don’t necessarily agree with The Economist’s critique, I would feel far more confident if that revised statement became reality.