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As China tries to cosy up to the new US president, how will Biden respond?

Biden, unlike Trump, did not mention China even once in his inaugural address

Asian factories slow as China-US trade conflict starts to bite Representative image | ANI

Trump's four years in power as US president marked the worst phase in China-US relations. During his tenure, Trump, a Republican, pushed aggressively on all aspects of ties, including with his relentless trade war, challenging China's military hold on the disputed South China Sea, its constant threats to Taiwan and branding coronavirus as "China virus" after it emerged from Wuhan in December 2019, as well as Xinjiang and Tibet issues.

Now, with a new US president in power, China is attempting to cool the hostility and bringing a semblance of normalcy to the relations between Beijing and Washington. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said: "I noticed the word unity has been mentioned several times in his inaugural speech. This is what is urgently needed in our bilateral relations," she said, adding that over the past four years "a handful of US politicians made so many lies and incited so much hatred and division". "Chinese and Americans have fallen victims to this," she said, and asked the new US administration to bring the damaged China-US ties on the right track.

"We have different social systems, development stages and historical culture. It is only natural for us to have differences. Just as Biden said democracy should allow the right to dissent and disagreement must not lead to disunion, this should also be true to international relations," she said.

So, how will the new US president react to these overtures? Biden, unlike Trump, did not mention China even once in his inaugural address, but did not offer any clear signal to fix the damaged ties. However, his top administration officials have made their views on the issue, with their opinions ranging from outright hawkishness to wary suspicion. 

Spy chief nominee

Asserting that China is a "challenge" to the security and prosperity of the US, spy chief nominee Avril Haines has said she supports an "aggressive stance" to deal with the challenges that the country is now facing from Beijing. "America's approach to China has to evolve and essentially meet the reality of the particularly assertive and aggressive China that is being experienced now," Haines told lawmakers during her confirmation hearing for the post of director of national intelligence.

"China is a challenge to our security, to our prosperity, to our values across a range of issues, and I do support an aggressive stance, in a sense, to deal with the challenge that we're facing. So I think that's the place that we are now, and one that is more assertive than where we had been in the Obama/Biden administration. And if I am confirmed, I think frankly the intelligence community can do a lot to help in that respect," she said.

Defence-secretary nominee

China, which already is a "regional hegemon", is now aiming to be a "dominant world power", America's defence secretary-designate retired Gen Lloyd Austin told US lawmakers, citing Beijing's recent "coercive behaviour" in the region and around the globe.

"They are [China] already a regional hegemon and I think their goal is to be a dominant world power. And they are working across the spectrum to compete with us in a number of areas and it will take a whole of government approach to push back on their efforts in a credible way," Austin told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation hearing.

"Not to say that we won't see things down the road that are in our best interest that we can cooperate with China on. But we do things that are in our best interest. But certainly, some of the things that we've seen from them in recent past in terms of coercive behaviour in the region and around the globe tend to make us believe that they really want to be a dominant world power," Austin said.

Secretary of State

Identifying a rising and assertive China as a major national security threat to the United States, the incoming US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has said that America needs to approach the challenge from a "position of strength, not weakness".

"As we look at China, there is no doubt that it poses the most significant challenge of any nation state to the United States in terms of our interests, the interests of the American people," Blinken told members of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing.

"There are rising adverse aerial aspects to the relationship. Certainly competitive ones and still some cooperative ones when it is in our mutual interest. I think as we were thinking about how to deal with China, and I think this is reflected in the work that the committee is done, we have to start by approaching China from a position of strength, not weakness," Blinken added. He said that the good news is America's ability to do that is largely within its control.

-Inputs from agencies

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