The U.S. 2022 mid-term election, as most people predicted, had flipped the House from Democrat to Republican (D212:R218 with 5 to be called). The Senate was a close race with one seat in Georgia for run-off next month (R 48, D 49 and Independent 2 counted in the Democrat caucus plus Georgia for run-off). The Biden Administration had a 238:197 Democrat-controlled 117th House and a 50:50 Senate (with the Vice President’s tie-breaker vote). In the 118th Congress, Biden for sure will face a crippled House. This is a significant change not only affecting Biden’s domestic agenda but also critical in carrying out U.S. foreign policies.
On international affairs, the Russian-Ukraine war and the Indo-Pacific anti-China policy are the two most critical foreign agendas on Biden’s plate. The news report of Russian-made missiles landing in Poland killing two civilians ticked the world on needles worrying about a nuclear war. A hasty counter-Russia retaliation may lead to a counter-retaliation. Thank goodness that the missiles were determined to be fired by Ukraine, not by Russia. This cooled off the nuclear tension but also changed the mood of the West, that is EU and NATO, thinking it is safer to guide Ukraine and Russia to a peace settlement than let Ukraine drag the West to a nuclear war. The House infused with fresh Republican and Democrat representatives probably will go along with the Biden Administration if toning down the Ukraine war is indeed the objective in the coming year. But how the new House may act on China policy is likely subject to a learning process,
Indeed, the second critical foreign agenda, likely far more complex than the Russian-Ukraine war, in the long run, is Biden’s anti-China policy which encompasses the Indo-Pacific strategy, QUAD Coalition and AUKUS Alliance. Since targeting China as a competitor was a bipartisan idea (not necessarily having a cooperative plan), initiated by Obama Administration (2009-2016, Pivot to Asia Pacific and Balancing Power), hyped by Trump (2014-2016 presidential campaign) with more explicit anti-China campaign rhetoric eventually promoted him to the White House in 2017, and then hitch-hiked by Biden to win back the White House in 2020 promising to add his diplomatic skills in forming alliances against China. Hence, we witnessed a slew of alliance initiatives directed at China taking advantage of the existing anti-China sentiments without doing an honest assessment of their assumptions, justifications and consequences.
In the past two years, U.S.-China relations were pushed towards a cliff. Biden maintained the anti-China tariffs and trade war initiated by Trump and added the above-mentioned geopolitical military confrontations as well as expanded economic sanctions focused on the semiconductor manufacturing supply chain. However, China did not kowtow to the U.S. pressure nor to U.S. allies including the UK, Australia, Japan, S. Korea and other Southeast Asia cohorts. In fact, China was able to resist the onslaught with counterattacks, crippling Australia’s export economy (dependent on China), threatening Japan and S. Korea’s lucrative trade surpluses with China, and neutralizing India with BRICS and SCO and pressuring her with RCEP. Therefore, Biden’s anti-China strategy including tactics of playing the Taiwan card scored few points but exposed the U.S. selfish motive - maintaining superpower status in the world by stopping China's rise.
The Russia-Ukraine war was part of NATO's expansion strategy to confront Russia but Putin was able to preempt the plot and turn the conflict into an energy war which the EU and NATO could ill afford. The U.S. cannot fill Russia’s energy share from a long distance, the quadruple hike in U.S. natural gas prices essentially has knocked Europeans’ heads with a hammer. Throughout the Russia-Ukraine war, the Russians constrained their military actions to bomb military and energy infrastructures whereas the bombing of the Russia-Europe undersea gas pipelines, Crimea bridge and faking Russian missiles landed in Poland had raised questions why the West did not want to mediate the war? China and India both have maintained their neutral positions regarding the Ukraine war. China has repeatedly called for a cease-fire and negotiation. The West media seem to be finally petered out from the rhetoric of justifying and prolonging the war.
November 2022 is a busy month with several key international leader conferences, the China-ASEAN Summit in Cambodia, G20 in Bali, Indonesia and APEC in Bangkok, Thailand. The most notable events were China’s leader Xi Jinping’s in-person presence at the G20 and APEC meetings and Premier Li Kejiang’s attendance at the 25th China-ASEAN summit. There are tons of news reports about these events. We only need to highlight a summary to point out the trend of international development. First, the ASEAN summit signified a very positive relationship between ASEAN countries and China expecting to have an official rule of conduct agreement regarding navigation, investment, and resource exploration in South China Sea. This will be a pillar for peace in that region preventing outside interference.
At G20, so many leaders including Biden were anxious to have a meeting with Xi, short or long. More than ten national leaders got an opportunity to converse with Xi in private. Biden and Xi had more than three hours of discussion (with concurrent interpretation). Based on the news communique, we saw a sign of softening in the U.S.-China relationship. Secretary Blinken will be traveling to China in the new year to work on issues such as ‘crisis avoidance’ and ‘renewal of cultural and academic exchange’. The host Indonesia showed off the 350km/hr high-speed rail from Jakarta to Wannong built by China. This is not only a major progress for Indonesia's economy, but it also signifies China will be a strong infrastructure supplier to the world on both continents and island chains. Since the U.S. has allotted funds for infrastructure modernization, it would make sense to cooperate with China rather than waste money on confrontation.
Looking forward to the 118th Congress, Biden is facing a Republican-dominated House. Biden needs to turn around the poisonous anti-China atmosphere in Congress. The anti-China sentiments were largely politically motivated, for example, by inviting anti-China dissidents to speak at the Congressional committees seeking limelight, TV time, and votes. Many hawkish anti-China Congressmen never visited China. Without first-hand knowledge, they rely on hearsay and propaganda rhetoric. For the Biden Administration to steer the China policy to a healthy path, the author suggests that the U.S. government must do two things. First, encourage our congressmen especially the freshmen (Democrats: Beeca Balint, Vt, Robert Garcia, Ca, Delia Rameriz, ILL, Jill Dakota, Hi, Greg Cascar, TX, Maxwell Frost, FLA, Jonathan Jackson, ILL, Summer Lee, PA, and Republican: Cory Mills, FLA, Minica De La Cruz, TX, Rudy Yakym, IND, Wesley Hunt, TX, Rich McCormick, GA, Jen Kiggins, VA, John James, MICH) to visit China. Secretary Blinken should facilitate this ASAP during his trip to China. A few freshman senators (Democrat John Fetterman, PA, and Peter Welch, VT) should be also included as well.
The second thing that needs to be initiated is to begin an in-depth intellectual level discussion on how the U.S. and China can cooperate for mutual benefit. There are lots of important areas such as climate change, healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing, biomedicine, space exploration, etc., the two countries can work together to get one plus one greater than two effects. The G20 meeting was a rare opportunity for the two leaders to have an honest conversation, face reality and realize that the current confrontation leads to no winner. Given that the two leaders now agreed to avoid confrontation and to reestablish interaction, we must seek this opportunity to move in the positive direction quickly. Under the cultural and academic exchange program, collaborative efforts can be easily established. With these two initiatives, the poisonous anti-China sentiments should stop and the Biden Administration with Congress’ support could then steer the U.S. China policy in a healthy and win-win direction.