The US policy toward China that both Biden and Trump agree with, explained

The US-China relationship has been deteriorating for years, only for tensions this month to reach new levels of hostility. Things may only get worse from here.

President Joe Biden told 60 Minutes in an interview that aired Sunday that the US would defend Taiwan should it be attacked by China. It was at least the fourth time he has broken with the longstanding US policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its commitments to the democratic island that Beijing claims as its own — and, in the process, made explicit a new hawkish reality of how Washington sees China.

That follows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August. China responded by holding military exercises around the island that were among its most brazen expressions of militarism in recent memory. Lawmakers from both parties largely supported her trip even though experts say the timing was escalatory. This enthusiasm to openly support Taiwan reflects Washington’s new hawkish consensus on China — one so deep that many observers note that Biden’s approach to China looks a lot like his predecessor’s, former President Donald Trump.

Even as Washington appears divided along partisan lines over almost every area of policy, there is a consensus on China that Tufts international politics professor Daniel Drezner likened in 2019 to a new Red Scare: that, in essence, China poses an existential threat, not just economically, politically, and militarily, but also ideologically.

Massive investments in the US military — $7.1 billion in last year’s military budget alone, for a new Pacific deterrence bucket that was $2 billion above the roughly $5 billion Biden had requested — have become policymakers’ answer to growing Chinese aggression. The Biden administration has also revived US industrial policy to counter China’s tech production dominance. The loudest voices are the hawks, even as some scholars have pushed back against this, trying to avert a new Cold War.

“There is no real difference in the parties in how they see the threat from China right now,” former Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said in June.

Consensus around how China’s policies damage the US economically and threaten the US’s security dominance in Asia aren’t new, and several US presidents have recognized that Asia is the most important arena for US foreign policy.

But in the past decade, US policy toward China has transformed, going from President Barack Obama’s short-lived pivot to Asia — a policy that allowed room to engage China while prioritizing the Asia-Pacific region — to nationalistic and outright aggressive policy under Trump. Now, Biden has put forward a series of policies that are all about countering China. Washington’s all-in on great power competition.

The changes reflect each country’s new dynamics. China has militarized the South China Sea, invested big in the developing world, and pursued unfair state-driven trade and economic policies, all while cracking down internally on dissent. America has experienced its own shifts, with an increasingly nationalist, zero-sum Republican Party, the economy’s move away from manufacturing, and the declining of US…

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