Biden for human rights over trade; seeks to counter China in Indo-Pacific region


New Delhi, March 24: Soon after Joe Biden was chosen to be the next President of the US, Chinese media wasted no time in calling him “old friend” – phrase that was used by Chinese head Xi Jinping earlier.

Biden’s entry must have come as a respite for Beijing then after dealing with former President Donald Trump’s hostile and bitter policies towards China. The initial moves made by Biden administration however are not assuring for Beijing. Biden seems to be continuing with the same Trumpian policies, albeit, without making much noise.He seems to have given political issues such as human rights an upper hand while putting trade — a major flashpoint between the Sino-US relations – on the backburner. Besides, shaping up a new order in Indo- pacific region appears to be Biden’s geopolitical course to chart, which aims to create hurdles for Chinese ambitions.

The very first high-level US-China talks since Biden took over, which were held in Alaska’s Anchorage, saw top diplomats trading barbs publicly, suggesting no thaw in the turbulent Sino-US relations. Highlighting the issues of human rights violation in Xinjiang province of China and Hong Kong, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China to respect rules- based global order or face a ‘more violent world’.

China too responded in harsh tone and asked the US to address “deep-seated” issues such as racism at home.

A seasoned politician, Biden, who has spent 50 years in the active politics was expected to be focusing on improving bilateral relations with China. However, he surprised political pundits by raising the issue of human rights abuses in the very first phone call with Xi Jinping, and later in a television show he claimed that China would pay for its misdeeds.

The recently held Indo Pacific QUAD meeting attended my member countries — the US, India Australia and Japan– was seen as a step to check China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Ahead of the Anchorage meeting, Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times had said the objection of the US was an excuse to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, which was “unreasonable” and “vicious”.

And as expected, ruling out any possibility of cordial proceedings at Anchorage, the US and China ended up publicly rebuking each other in first major talks of Biden era. The Chinese media had expressed optimism reacting to Biden’s election saying relations could be restored to a state of greater predictability and could start with trade.6But the Biden’s entry has not proven positive for China on business front either. Despite China’s exports soaring to pre-Covid-19 times, its trade with US has gone down in the recent months.

Biden’s strategy not to abandon Trump’s tough tone while dealing with Beijing government is going to keep the US-China trade relations strained. As Biden would not be appearing soft on human rights issue, he may tighten his grip further for the cause. “The Biden administration will link human rights issues to exports [and] sales of technology. Expect to see more export controls and sanctions against Chinese interests,” said Alex Capri, a visiting senior fellow at National University of Singapore.

India is a new entrant in the US plan to counter China. The US is channelising India’s rise as a counterweight to Beijing. A week after the QUAD meet, the US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, arrived in India in order to strengthen Indo-US ties, boost bilateral cooperation and discuss Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh.

Austin made visits to Japan and South Korea before concluding his three- nation tour in India. It clearly showed the US is busy forming anti- China coalition in Indo-pacific to beat Beijing in its own backyard. “This signals to India, and to common rivals like China, that the Biden administration values its security relationship with New Delhi in a big way,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director and senior associate for South Asia at the Washington-based Wilson Center.

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