The Chinese have not respected "phase one" of the trade agreement. The US expects the growth of agricultural purchases from China. Biden and Congress press Xi Jinping on human rights. The blacklist of Chinese hi-tech companies remains. US warships intensify presence in the South China Sea. Blinken at work to restore alliances and involve Europe.
Beijing (AsiaNews) - US tariffs on Chinese exports will stay, at least until a conclusive study on their effects, says Janet Yellen. The new US Treasury Secretary yesterday confirmed forecasts that Joe Biden would maintain the hard line desired by his predecessor former President Donald Trump.
The position reduces Chinese hopes of opening a new chapter in relations with Washington after four tense years.
In an attempt to resolve the trade war unleashed by Trump, in January 2019 the two sides signed a preliminary agreement (the so-called "phase one") with which China committed to buying around 184 billion euros in goods and services from the United States by the end of 2021.
The target has not been achieved; Beijing imported 42% less. It justified itself by arguing that the drop in purchases was due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
Yellen did not rule out that Beijing could yet respect the commitments it has made with the Trump administration. For example, Washington expects an exponential growth in its agricultural exports to China this year, reaching a record figure of 31.5 billion dollars.
But all this still seems too little to attenuate the geopolitical conflict between the two powers.
Since his inauguration, Biden has reiterated several times that China "will pay a price" for its repeated human rights abuses. On February 10, in the first contact with his Chinese counterpart, the democratic leader criticized Xi Jinping for the repression of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, the suppression of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong and Beijing's aggressive actions against Taiwan.
Biden is pressured by both Republicans and Democrats on the human rights front, who largely share the idea that a "Trumpian" approach is needed to deal with Beijing. The US Congress is preparing to approve a law banning the imports of goods produced in Xinjiang. They will only be authorized if there is "convincing evidence" that local businesses do not exploit forced labour in manufacturing.
Along with tariffs, Biden has maintained another pillar of Trump's anti-Beijing policy: the blacklist of Chinese hi-tech companies suspected of having ties to their country's military. These include the giants Huawei, Xiaomi and Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Ely Ratner, head of the new Pentagon task force on China, said yesterday that technological competition with the Asian giant is a high priority of the Biden presidency.
Meanwhile, US ships continue to operate in the South China Sea, where Beijing has occupied and militarized atolls and coral reefs claimed - with US support - by other countries in the region. On February 16, the destroyer USS Russell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands; on February 8 the USS John S. McCain did the same near the Paracels. Last week, two US aircraft carriers (Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz) conducted a rare joint exercise in the area.
To counter the Chinese military advance in East Asia, the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is committed to strengthening ties with regional allies and partners: at the moment this is the only aspect that differentiates Biden's diplomatic conduct from Trump who was unwilling to use Washington's tried and tested alliance system.
Yesterday Blinken had a virtual meeting with his counterparts from Japan, Australia and India. The intent is to strengthen the Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which China sees as the embryo of an Indo-Pacific NATO.
Blinken also had three-way talks with the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Great Britain. They agreed on the need to coordinate actions to face the challenges posed by China: a sign that Biden wants to widen the opposition front in Beijing as much as possible and avert the possibility that the Chinese leverage Europeans to obtain concessions from Washington.