The US needs to become more competitive and abandon its “American first” approach if it wants to forge closer ties with allies to counter challenges from China, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign of US presidential hopeful Joe Biden said.
In a Paulson Institute podcast this month, Ely Ratner, director of studies at the Centre for a New American Security and an adviser to the Biden camp, said Washington should focus less on forcing Beijing to change and more on being “a more confident United States”.
Ratner said the two countries were not headed for a Cold War, rather their rivalry would involve “a much more differentiated competition”.
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“There is not a single bumper sticker you can use to describe the way that we can approach China on climate change, technology and defence issues, North Korea and every other issue under the sun,” he said in the podcast Straight Talk with Hank Paulson.
Ratner said that unlike in the Cold War era, China and the US had economic exchanges, China was integrated into the international system and other countries were reluctant to side with one bloc or another.
At present, Biden is leading in polls in the US presidential race against incumbent Donald Trump.
Ratner was a deputy national security adviser from 2015 to 2017 for then-vice-president Biden and could take up a senior position if Biden wins the election in November.
Ratner said the US needed to think more about its own behaviour.
“The China challenge right now is about us, it’s not about them, it’s about our own competitiveness, not just a narrow sense of investing at home, fixing ourselves at home, but also in terms of our international economics, diplomacy, our technology, our innovation, defence and security,” he said.
On 5G and other hi-tech policy, Ratner said the US should seek greater coordination with allies such as Japan, Europe, Australia and South Korea, ensuring a secure and reliable supply chain, setting norms and screening investment to cement the leverage against Beijing.
He also singled out Taiwan, saying it was “the tip of top” of priorities and might become a major issue in relations with Beijing.
He said Washington might need to “rethink from the US” about future relations with Taiwan, how to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, preserving Taiwan’s democracy and avoiding real confrontation with mainland China.
Also in the podcast, Evan Feigenbaum, vice-president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the US could cement its leverage against China by becoming “a standard setter” in the international system in areas such as innovation and investment.
Senior Chinese senior diplomats have repeatedly delivered conciliatory remarks to the US in recent months, calling for dialogue to avoid miscalculation and work out solutions to defuse the tensions, while also sounding an alarm of further complication before the election in November.
Observers said the speeches marked a subtle change in China’s approach to the US, and could be a message to a potential new administration.
But they also warned that no matter who was president, the White House would continue a tough line against China.
“Trump will almost certainly pile on the provocations on all fronts between now and the presidential election in November. Chinese leaders can grit their teeth and bear it until then, in order to leave room for a potential President Biden to roll back some of Trump’s actions,” Gavekal Dragonomics research head Arthur Kroeber said in a research report last week.
“This is reasonable, even though Joe Biden will probably not be much softer on China than Trump in general. But he might abandon Trump’s tariffs and will likely reopen many of the communication channels that Trump has closed.”
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This article US must forget ‘America first’ to counter China challenges, Biden campaign adviser says first appeared on South China Morning Post