Washington

Biden Strikes Right Tone on Confronting China

With every passing day, there is a greater cause for concern regarding China’s appetite for conflict with the United States. But now is not the time for panic.  

Rather, the Biden administration appears to be pursuing a calculated, methodical and deliberate strategy in response to Beijing’s quest for global dominance. The White House’s approach to China is a multilateral strategy that ensures that America is not alone in standing up to President Xi Jinping.  

Last month, President Joe Biden approved the recommendations of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s global posture review. This study, ordered by the president in February shortly after his inauguration, outlines how our military will continue to maintain stability around the world.

The current administration is trying to take a more holistic, government-wide approach in its relationship with China. This is an improvement over the previous White House, which offered demands that the Chinese government cut a trade deal with a president who believed himself to be a dealmaker. Looking back, it is clear that no agreement was possible because neither side could risk their own domestic political blowback of looking like a “loser.”  

The former president’s trade strategy was also doomed to failure, because the Chinese have a plan to overtake the United States as the global economic powerhouse. 

Accordingly, the United States must reassess our response to Chinese efforts to undermine America’s leadership of the global economy. We can no longer tolerate policies we would have tolerated just a few years ago from China.  

For example, the Chinese have been quietly asserting themselves in the U.S. food supply chain over the last several years by selling the United States cheap amino acids, which are critical ingredients in the production of animal feed.   

American businesses that rely on amino acids have purchased these Chinese amino acids without questioning why China was selling them to us so cheaply. But as pointed out by former Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy in a recent piece in the Des Moines Register, the real purpose of selling these cheap Chinese made amino acids in the United States is to corner the U.S. market and eliminate the domestic producers of amino acids.  

A recent study found that if China takes over the U.S. amino acid industry, it could result in the loss of 30,000 American jobs. Espy also pointed out that should Beijing eliminate the domestic amino acids market, “the Chinese can then raise their prices, or make demands on both U.S. businesses or our government in exchange for not raising prices.” In other words, there is a high price to pay for these cheap Chinese amino acids.  

Like Espy, I agree that the U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai should begin a Section 301 investigation of subsidized Chinese amino acids and potentially recommend tariffs to mitigate risk to the U.S. food supply chain. Congress should also consider legislation to provide incentives to U.S. companies to bolster investment in critical supply chains, like food. The Department of Agriculture has been leading on these food and national security issues in Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. 

Another important action by the Biden administration was the recent decision to hold companies accountable for operating in Xinjiang, a region in China where ethnic Uyghurs are being oppressed and used as cheap forced labor. Any business operating in this region is likely benefiting from this forced labor, and the White House has released a plan to coordinate a response with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor. Separately, on Capitol Hill, the House recently passed legislation to ban imports from this region. The bill is now in the hands of the Senate.  

When deployed with the U.S. Army in Africa, I saw firsthand the economic expansion efforts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I know the Chinese are working to build economic alliances across Africa, South America and elsewhere with these strategic investments.  

All signs point to the problem with China getting worse — not better. We need to keep our resolve and implement a comprehensive plan to challenge Beijing. Failure is not an option, and we must do all we can to reduce China’s ability to continue its march toward domination and subjugation of anyone they consider a threat — including us.  

 

Hank Naughton, an attorney in private practice, is a former Massachusetts state legislator who chaired the House Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and served on the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board during the Obama administration. 

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