From Iran to Russia, Europe to Latin America, Biden has sought to cool tensions that rose during President Donald Trump's four years in office. Yet, there have been no overtures to China.
Although the Biden administration has halted the ferocious rhetorical attacks and near daily announcements of new sanctions on China that had become commonplace under Trump, it has yet to back down on any of Trump's actions against Beijing. This persistent state of low-intensity hostility has profound implications. China and the United States are the world's two largest economies and the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases. Their power struggle complicates global efforts to deal with climate change and recover from the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden's tough stance has its roots in the competition for global power, but it's also a result of the 2020 presidential election campaign in which Trump and his allies repeatedly sought to portray him as soft on China, particularly during the pandemic that originated there. There's also little appetite from lawmakers in either party to ease pressure on China.
Thus in their first month in office, Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have reaffirmed many of the Trump administration's most significant steps targeting China, including a determination that its crackdown on Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in western Xinjiang region constitutes a "genocide" and a flat-out rejection of nearly all of China's maritime claims in the South China Sea.
Nor has the new administration signaled any let-up in Trump's tariffs, restrictions on Chinese diplomats, journalists and academics in the U.S. or criticism of Chinese policies toward Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong. It's also critical of Beijing's attempts to further its increasing global influence through telecommunications technology, social media and educational and cultural exchanges.
Biden's nominee to head the CIA, William Burns, was explicit about his concerns over many of these issues at his confirmation hearing Wednesday. And, the newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, made a point of highlighting her unease with the state of affairs and pledged to combat Chinese attempts to exert undue pressure on other countries at the U.N.
The backdrop is clear: The United States is convinced that it and China are engaged in a duel for global dominance. And neither is prepared to back down.
China has sounded at times hopeful that Biden will reverse what foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said were Trump administration actions that "caused immeasurable damage to the relationship between the two countries."
Those remarks followed a speech in which China's top diplomat, Wang Yi, demanded that Biden's administration lift restrictions on trade and people-to-people contacts and cease what Beijing considers unwarranted interference in the areas of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet.