US President Joe Biden’s administration has started a review of his predecessor’s trade war with China and other actions taken against Beijing, and will work with allies to stop the country’s “economic abuses on many fronts”.
Pledging “an approach of patience”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that Biden “will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China, and that includes evaluating the tariffs currently in place, and he wants to ensure that we take any steps in coordination with our allies and partners, and with Democrats and Republicans in Congress”.
The trade war that former president Donald Trump started with China in 2018 stopped escalating a year ago, when he and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He signed a phase one agreement that committed Beijing to specific targets for the country’s purchases of US goods and services.
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Biden’s intentions with respect to the punitive tariffs has become a key focus on the US-China front as an indication of how the new leadership in Washington will handle the bilateral relationship.
An analysis of Chinese customs data by the Peterson Institute of International Economics last week showed that China fulfilled only 58 per cent of the phase one targets, raising questions about whether the agreement was ever feasible even without the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House is also running inter-agency reviews on other US-China matters, including an executive order by Trump that barred US investors from making new purchases in three Chinese telecommunications carriers beginning January 11 and gave them until November to sell their existing holdings.
Deliberations over the ban on investment in companies including China Mobile and China Telecom are being undertaken by the State and Treasury departments, “and a number of others”, Psaki told White House reporters.
“I don’t want to get ahead of any review, but certainly we’re taking an overarching look at all of it,” she said. “As we have more to report will report back to you.
“The president is committed to stopping China’s economic abuses on many fronts, and the most effective way to do that is through working in concert with our allies and partners to do exactly that.”
Yet the new administration’s plans for a coordinated approach to tackling China comes as the European Union, recently agreed to a wide-ranging investment deal with Beijing, an agreement that critics say is too weak on China’s human rights record.
White House statements about recent calls with Britain’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and Germany’s Angela Merkel have all namechecked China as a priority issue for transpacific relations. In contrast, statements from those European countries’ governments of the same calls made no mention of the country.
Biden moved quickly to undo a number of Trump’s policies in his first few days in office, including Washington’s return to the Paris climate agreement, but has yet to do so on any matters related directly to China.
Psaki’s description of Biden’s approach was consistent with what the president’s secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken said about China in his confirmation hearing last week.
“President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China,” Blinken said. “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”
Additional reporting by Owen Churchill
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