By Kenneth Rapoza, CPA Industry Analyst
President Biden’s National Security Council looks tough on China. How will they act on it?
President Biden, initially criticized for being soft on China, is having to prove otherwise. We are liking some of the additions to the China watch team inside the National Security Council (NSC).
Other than climate change, China is the single biggest issue being shared across the new Biden administration. Rush Doshi’s addition as the China director at the NSC continues with the trend Trump set in play at the White House in regard to the China threat. Biden’s biggest difference is his insistence on working with allies, though this may prove more successful with Japan and South Korea than does will with Germany and France.
Doshi will work under NSC Senior Director on China matters, Laura Rosenberger, as well as Kurt Campbell, who spearheads the NSC’s new Indo-Pacific team.
Both Doshi and Campbell have worked together on China issues before. In December, they co-authored a Foreign Policy article on how the China challenge is a much-needed boost to a rethinking of defense and security matters. Campbell has spoken on this issue before and that seems to be his bailiwick. Doshi has been more focused on the business side of the relationship, eyeing Beijing’s industrial and information strategies.
Doshi was the director of the Brookings China Strategy Initiative and is working on report on China’s global influence campaigns, led by the work of Li Keqiang’s United Front. He is the author of the book “The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order.”
He understands China’s role in global supply chain dominance and has been a critic of American corporate dependence and investment in those supply chains over the years.
“China wants to make it harder for companies to leave,” he said in a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on China in July. “They are hoping to move towards automation and smart manufacturing with their huge 5G grid in order to keep China cheap and at the center of global supply chains. Many of those supply chains they already dominate.”
Members of the US Chamber of Commerce like to tell Capitol Hill that their main members have not left China during Trump’s trade war because logistics were so good. No other country could compare. “What can we do about that?” Doshi said to the Senate this summer, adding “I don’t believe China’s advantages are insurmountable.”
Doshi’s closest associate inside the NSC is Campbell. Campbell, a former Obama State Department official and businessman, was a board vice chairman of the U.S.-China Strong Foundation, a cultural exchange program. He is also the co-founder of The Asia Group. That company exists to help American and other companies get into and expand into Asian markets.
For now, Campbell is sticking with the previous government’s position on China, only with the “working with allies” spin attached to it.
“My own sense, is that it will turn out that President Trump will be one of the most influential presidents in American history, in ways that we may not welcome, but I think that reality is key,” he said in a recent speech transcribed here by Caixin Global, a China business daily. “Building a cadre of people that have deep experience in Asia really is a project that is underway. And in fact, President Trump helped advance that capacity, and I think that will continue,” he said.
He differs from Trump on his approach to international decision-making. Specifically, while Trump often excluded Beijing from Asian regional issues, with the exception of North Korea, Campbell thinks we should be including China in issues that involve their Asia-Pacific neighborhood. He believes that failing to cooperate with China is “neither practical nor profitable.”
Campbell’s view of China can give us a framework through which to predict the Biden administration’s approach to China, as well. He has been critical of the Trump approach, but agrees with its conclusion that the bilateral relationship is now defined by “strategic competition” – a term first used by the Trump administration in the 2017 National Security Strategy.
For her part, Rosenberger, who reports to Campbell, is a DC regular, having worked in the first Obama/Biden administration at NSC and State. On China, she is most recently noted for her criticisms of the way Beijing handled the pandemic.
We would like to hear a bit less on foreign policy intrigue, and more on what can be done to make America manufacturing survive the China onslaught in everything from rare earth minerals to China’s growing prowess on both the demand side and the supply side in the semiconductor industry.
The storyline from the new Biden administration is that it will be more focused on the old multilateral institutions that also deal with China, from the World Trade Organization to the United Nations. Both institutions have had no meaningful impacts on China human rights violations in Xinjiang or its market distorting practices. This is international summit banter and CPA advocates for action.
We suspect more talk from the foreign policy side, none of which are necessarily supportive in the near or mid-term to reshoring and Build Back Better.
Much of the Biden post-pandemic recovery agenda will depend on how the administration handles China. No matter how many hawks are in Washington, policies that make it at least as attractive for an American multinational to source goods from Asia as it does here is the action we need to rebuild the economy for decades to come.