Yangmingshan National Park, Taipei, Taiwan. Photo: metrotrekker.com (CC BY-SA 4.0)
I want to thank our host CP Australia, and also CP Britain and the other comrades who made this discussion possible.
I want to address the topic with three points: 1) what is the Biden administration’s China policy after one year in office? 2) How effective is that policy? 3) The Taiwan issue.
I. What is Biden’s China Policy?
Biden’s policy is essentially a doubling-down of the aggressive strategy of seeking global hegemony, which means a strong anti-China policy as its main perceived long-term rival and adversary, while given the Ukraine events, Russia may become a prime adversary in the shorter term.
The Trump administration launched the trade war, which hasn’t worked very well. While some damage was done to Huawei mobile phones and Xinjiang cotton, China’s basic economic and international trade position today continues to be overall strong.
Biden shifted to a (full spectrum) attack on human rights and an ideological and propaganda war, focused on false and extravagant claims about “genocide” of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.
Both administrations have tried to block China’s acquisition of high technology, its access to computer chips and sales of 5G equipment. Both administrations have continued provocative displays of air-sea military power in the South China Sea, even with risk of conflict or war. Biden may leave himself an out if there is a change in approach as he articulates rhetoric upholding “one-China.” However, he continues actions to support Taiwan independence, and says he is against a new cold war while actively pushing it.
How do we explain this basic continuity of US imperialist policy towards China? The weapons manufacturers and the military-industrial complex profit immensely when there is a fearsome enemy – thus acquiring expensive new weapons systems is a necessity. The colossal sums appropriated by the US Congress to the military machine mean big profits for Wall Street banks, and neocon analysts at right-wing think tanks are pleased to identify China as the principal enemy.
We need to look at strategy towards China in a larger context. The “Biden Doctrine” depicts a historic, global struggle between democracy and autocracy for the defence of freedom and the future of the world. The US presumes to consider itself as the leader of the democracies, and also defines what is a democracy. The question for the US is, do you support us? There is no consideration as to whether any given country is actually democratic or not. This hypocrisy is obvious to the Global South.
Biden envisioned improving on Trump’s go it alone approach to build a US-led “grand alliance” of the so-called democracies to defeat the “autocracies” in “fierce competition” to ensure a “free world” and stop China’s growing malign influence. To this end, Biden hosted a Summit for Democracy in December, a Zoom conference attended by 111 countries, the “democracies.” Of course, China and Russia were not invited. Biden hoped this meeting would boost forward a practical collaboration. However, there has been little follow through in action
II. How Effective is the Biden Doctrine, on its Own Terms?
While not supported globally, it seems to be working well in the countries of the Anglosphere – US, UK, Australia and Canada. In the US, Biden has consolidated political support. Both Democratic and Republican parties are united in the anti-China policy. Congress passes huge military budgets and China-bashing legislation with overwhelming votes.
In civil society, liberal mainstream media outlets such the New York Times and CNN lead the attack on human rights, with constant negative messaging night-and-day. US public opinion has shifted from positive on China ten years ago to two-thirds negative today. The way in which the US ruling class can shape public opinion through its control of the corporate mass media frightens me. Meanwhile, racist incidents of harassment and violence against Chinese and Asian Americans keep increasing.
Outside the US, AUKUS, the new military agreement among the US, Australia and the UK, will provide nuclear-powered submarines to Australia and enhanced military and technical cooperation among the three countries. AUKUS is a major strategic military and political move by US imperialism to contain China’s power in the region. It is also a bonanza for US weapons contractors. In the UK, the US pressured London to ban China’s 5G technology and equipment, claiming it could be used for spying. All the Anglosphere countries including Canada embraced the propaganda line weaponising human rights.
But what if we step outside the Anglosphere? While the NATO countries are still subservient to the US militarily, the Biden Doctrine is not so popular even among allies and friends in the EU. For example, Germany wants good trade relations with China, its largest trading partner. Germans are skeptical that China is a direct military threat and along with France explored a more independent foreign policy in the Ukraine crisis. Biden’s call for a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics did not catch fire; even close allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt sent delegations. Where is the alliance of democracies actually operative?
If we consider the Global South, we see that the majority of people and countries want cooperation on critical issues as the pandemic, climate change and preventing a major war. This is common sense. The majority of countries and people around the world reject a global framework of division and US-led fierce competition; it is not just nor in their self-interest. Most countries support the trend towards a multi-polar world and against hegemony. China’s framework of win-win diplomacy and community for a shared future are much better suited for the increasingly multi-polar world.
US media continually portrays China as increasingly isolated internationally but that is not true especially in the Global South. For example, Iran and China are now implementing a 25-year cooperation agreement, Syria and Argentina recently joined the Belt and Road Initiative, and the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in November 2021 announced joint China-Africa production of 400 million doses of COVID vaccines with China providing 600 million more.
Thus, on a global scale, the Biden Doctrine is mostly not popular and not effective; it goes against the multi-polar trend of the times. So where does this leave us? Three more years of the imperialist Biden doctrine, which is bound to lead to constant tension and risk of conflict. That is not an appealing prospect, especially since there is little resistance in the US, either among progressive politicians or the peace/antiwar movement. Our job is to help build that resistance and the no cold war movement in the US and also internationally.
I was asked to say something about the Taiwan issue. The US mainstream media will say that this is a difficult, even intractable issue. Actually, it is easy to understand in principle. US aggression is 99 per cent the source of the problem and the path to resolving the problem is simply that the US has to actually implement the agreements it has already made, namely the Shanghai Communiqué of 1972 and the joint statement upon establishing diplomatic relations of the USA and PRC in 1979.
To help understand the Chinese perspective today, recall a few basic facts of history. China was long a presence in the South China Sea and the Qing Dynasty gained control of Taiwan from the Dutch in the late 17th century. However, the Qing was defeated by Japan in the war of 1894-1895 and Japan annexed Taiwan into its growing empire. During World War II, as Japan was being defeated, the “big four” allied leaders (Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin and Chiang Kai-Shek) met and considered the post war period in Asia. Taiwan would be returned to China by Japan, everyone agreed. When the United Nations was formed in 1945, China was a founding member of the Security Council and it was assumed that Taiwan was part of China. No one including the US ever thought otherwise.
But things began to change when the Chiang Kai-Shek led Guomindang progressively lost the Chinese civil war of 1946-1949, being defeated by the communist-led Red Army. The KMT fled to Taiwan island after being militarily defeated on the mainland. After the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the US sent its Seventh Fleet into the Taiwan straits to protect Chiang Kai-Shek. Most observers believe that without US military backing of the KMT, the Red Army with local support would have eventually taken control of the island. China has never accepted the legitimacy of the US military intervention in the Chinese civil war. And it is this US intervention that created the different governments on the island and the mainland, and is the root of this problem.
To China, this is an important core issue partly because it deals with territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Ever since the Opium War in 1840 the Western colonial strategy was to break off bits of the empire, one by one, to weaken and overthrow the Beijing government For example, the British occupied Hong Kong and had a concession in Shanghai. Germany and Japan had a concession in Shandong Province. Russia and Japan exerted control over northeast China or Manchuria and Britain tried to seize Tibet. Russia annexed considerable territory on China’s northern borders and eyed Xinjiang. Japan launched a full-scale invasion and occupation, costing more than 20 million Chinese lives.
Once again today China sees foreign warships on its southern coasts, just like the British during the Opium War. Today’s imperialist pressure on Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, has to be seen in this historical context. Both foreign minister Wang Yi and President Xi Jinping in their speeches have made references to the “century of humiliation” when China was a victim of colonialism and imperialism. Those who want peace must repudiate the 1950 US military intervention.
Fixing the Problem
Regarding the Taiwan issue, the solution is clear. All that needs to happen is for the US to actually fulfill the terms of the Shanghai Communiqué. The US simply has to do what it has committed to in writing. That is, cut back on military support for Taiwan, stop high level official visits, stick to established protocols, don’t support Taiwan independence activities. Recognise in word and deed that the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of China. Business, educational and cultural activities can proceed as usual.
Instead, Biden violates diplomatic agreements with China, such as by officially inviting to his inauguration the top Taiwanese envoy in the US. Sales of military equipment to Taipei have continued and the US has pushed for Taiwan’s participation as an independent country in international bodies like the WHO. The US continues to display military force in the South China Sea, but China will not back down on the Taiwan question; this is one place where China will fight if pushed too far and there is risk of a shooting war. It is the responsibility of the US to change course and fulfill its obligations according to the agreements it has signed.
Looking ahead, there are three more years of the Biden doctrine pressing US advantages in military and financial power and propaganda. Biden has shown he is willing to take risks on military confrontation, such as in the South China Sea or Ukraine. This is not an appealing prospect, particularly in the US, where we need a stronger peace and antiwar movement, which must be built broadly to be most effective, including working class and people of colour organizations.
Also, we should support the trend towards a multi-polar world. Build the no cold war movement and oppose a racist foreign policy in the communities, the media, the streets and in the bourgeois political institutions. Demand that the US president and Congress cut the military budget, close foreign bases and pull back troops from their forward positioning. Stop modernizing the US nuclear arsenal and initiate negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Cooperate with all countries on climate change and implement the China-US Glasgow agreement on global warming.
We urge that all the progressive people’s movements and organizations to join in a broad popular front against war, US militarism, racism, and white supremacy, and offer an alternative agenda of economic development and global cooperation.