Can the US effortlessly adopt a de risking strategy with China?

European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen made the term de risk viral

US China

The US State Department, on Tuesday, said that it has formally invited the newly reappointed Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Washington. Wang was appointed after former foreign minister Qin Gang was abruptly removed from the post after he mysteriously disappeared from public view for the past month. 

"We certainly expect that it is something that they would accept and is a trip that we expect to happen, but we have not yet scheduled a date," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told Reuters. "Concerning the high-level exchanges, both sides have maintained necessary communication," Miller added. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in June, became the first top American diplomat to visit China in five years. On the trip, he met with the then-foreign minister Qin Gang and extended an invitation to him. Blinken later met Wang on the sidelines of a regional meeting in Jakarta in Qin's absence. Wang served as foreign minister from 2013-2022 as China's ties with the US frayed to a point Beijing described as an all-time low. 

China's human rights violations in its treatment of Uyghur Muslims, its attempts to gain dominance in the South China Sea and putting pressure with military activity to get Taiwan to accept China's sovereignty are some of the reasons why relations between China and the US are fraught. In recent years, China has been emerging as a dominant and influential force in Asia. This has seemingly stoked feelings of anxiety in the US, that an increasingly strong, autocratic China seeks to undermine and weaken the US and the rest of the West. 

And to that end, in retaliation, the Trump administration has implied several sanctions on China further deteriorating relations between the two nations and maybe even widening the diplomatic distance, so to say. Trump, vastly sought to weed out America's dependency on China for various manufacturing needs and crucial supplies ranging from medical masks and electronics to toys. Trump even went on to blame China for the loss of American manufacturing jobs to cheaper labour overseas. He truly wished to sever the US' trade entanglements with China. 

But, is such entanglement possible? De risking would probably be a better way to go about it. The term seems to indicate a more moderate way to deal with an assertive China. It was European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, on March 30, when she talked about the purpose of her and French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to China, who made the term de risk viral in the diplomatic world. “I believe it is neither viable — nor in Europe’s interest — to decouple from China,” she said. “Our relations are not black or white — and our response cannot be either. This is why we need to focus on de risk — not decouple,” she added.

Complete de-tangling or decoupling would undo several years of coherent economic coexistence. But, safe, selective separation in certain areas and cooperation in certain areas could work well. On April 27, the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan said, “We are for de risking, not for decoupling.” “De risking fundamentally means having resilient, effective supply chains and ensuring we cannot be subjected to the coercion of any other country,” New York Times reported. US President Joe Biden at the G-7 summit, said, de risking involves “protecting a narrow set of advanced technologies critical for our national security” — with the greatest focus on “technology that could tilt the military balance.”  

De risking again, could prove to be complicated, and tricky. It carries negative connotations. De risking could mean limiting supplies of earth metals like magnesium and lithium, a critical input for electric-vehicle batteries. It seems difficult to make a clear distinction between decoupling and de risking. Making a clean economic break with China is hard to fathom and execute. De risking too, can be tough to enforce and manage. One wrong manoeuvre in cracking tough decisions like which smart conductors should be kept out of China's hands could lead to behaviour that causes unneeded harm. It will become crucial to sift through sanctions to recognise those that lean towards fair treatment and those that involve risk. 

A major challenge when it comes to de risking is how a particular risk is evaluated and balanced against a country’s other national interests in deciding what action should be taken against China to avoid giving way to aggression. 

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