As we move into the second month of the Biden administration, the challenge posed by China is moving front and center. This week, high-ranking officials from the Biden administration will meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska.
Whether the meeting’s location is one of convenience or designed to lower the stakes, the long-term threat China poses to U.S. and Western economic and security interests cannot be downplayed.
How will the Biden administration respond to China as a rapidly growing economic and military competitor and how will China present its no longer thinly veiled aspirations for global dominance?
The meeting in Alaska will provide the first real glimpse into how the new administration plans to deal with China and how the Xi Jinping-led China plans to deal with the United States.
There is no ambiguity in how China views its role in the world, however. Its actions send a clear signal that it sees itself as a global superpower that will ultimately surpass Europe and the United States as the world’s leading economic and military players.
Since 2001, when the U.S. facilitated China’s membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO), China has used that position to grow its international influence. U.S. and Western allies had hoped that China’s WTO membership would make it into a responsible international economic stakeholder that played by the rules and opened its markets to foreign products, services, and investments.
Instead, what happened is China gained access to world markets while doggedly protecting its own. It has invested generously in key industries outside of China while strictly limiting foreign investment in China itself.
In my days as a member of the "Gang of Eight" in Congress, I received the highest-level national security briefings. It will surprise no one that China’s malign activities were a frequent topic of discussion.
China’s consistent theft of intellectual property from the U.S. and its allies, and from some of the world’s best research universities and corporations, is also no longer a secret. For China, intellectual property theft provides a short track that is cheaper and easier than developing its own capabilities.
In my service as the ambassador to the Netherlands, the Dutch government expressed similar concerns regarding China’s behavior. The greatest concern in Europe was the predatory pricing of Chinese exports to undercut European companies and industries, drain their research and development funds, erase their profits, and ultimately put them out of business.
I give the Dutch Parliament enormous credit for the non-binding resolution it passed last month stating that Beijing’s persecution of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China amounts to genocide, the first such move by a European country.
And while I welcome President Biden’s decision to keep the Trump administration determination that Chinese mistreatment of the Uyghurs is genocide, I am concerned the White House also seems determined to conduct business as usual with Beijing and not take serious action to stop this crime against humanity.
Whether seen from the halls of Congress or a U.S. embassy in Europe, China’s predatory actions are clear. It has abused and repressed its own people, used its dominant position in low-cost, low-price commodity products to bend global public opinion and behavior, and now seeks to do the same in emerging and transformative technologies.
What these new technologies make possible, from 5G and 6G, to smart cities, autonomous driving, and new military and intelligence capabilities, is what is at stake when the two sides meet in Alaska.
The Biden administration would be wise to get to the tough part up front—demanding U.S. and Western companies be given fair access to the Chinese market and in the competition with China in the global marketplace.
On this Biden would be wise to follow the Trump playbook. He can claim it as his own playbook in the end if he wants.
Peter Hoekstra was US Ambassador to the Netherlands during the Trump administration. He served 18 years in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the second district of Michigan and served as Chairman and Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. He is currently Chairman of the Center for Security Policy Board of Advisors.
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