President-elect Joe Biden tapped Jake Sullivan to serve as White House national security advisor, a former foreign policy advisor under the Obama administration who previously advocated for the United States to “strike a middle course” that “create an environment more conducive to a peaceful and positive-sum” China economic rise as means to improve the two powerful nations relationship and prevents confrontation.
During a June 2107 lecture on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia Pacific under President Trump delivered at the Lowy Institute, Sullivan said that the United States should “encourages China’s rise” economically and that the U.S. shouldn’t view a relationship as an enemy or a friend.
“[Leading foreign policy expert] Owen Harries was right when he warned against containment of China. That is a self-defeating policy. But so is acquiescence. We need to strike a middle course, one that encourages China’s rise in a manner consistent with an open, fair, rules-based regional order,” Sullivan said, explaining the idea as a “new model,” a “tagline” former President Obama and Chinese President Xi announced during a summit in 2013.
“This requires care, and prudence, and strategic foresight. Even more fundamentally, it requires sustained attention. These are not in ample supply in Washington right now,” Sullivan added.
Sullivan continued to explain how he believes America’s China policy should be more than just bilateral ties, but about creating “an environment more conducive to a peaceful and positive-sum Chinese rise.”
“I expect over time that our friends and partners in the region will become increasingly concerned about the possibility of a 19th-century-style sphere of influence in Asia, in which China slowly nudges the United States out and consolidates its power and influence in a way that will ultimately force regional countries to supplicate,” Sullivan said. “It is a good reminder that America’s China policy needs to be about more than just bilateral ties, it needs to be about our ties to the region that create an environment more conducive to a peaceful and positive-sum Chinese rise.”
Sullivan is no stranger to Biden’s inner foreign policy circle. As Vice President, Sullivan was Biden’s national security advisor during Obama’s second term and was considered one of the first architects of the Iran Nuclear Deal. Previously Sullivan served as deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton during her time as secretary of state.
His nomination to National Security Advisor under the forthcoming Biden administration speaks volumes, showing how the upcoming administration will deal with China.
Trump’s tough stance on China was aimed at forcing Beijing to change its trade practices and as punishment for its authoritarian ways. The president has placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of products from China, imposed sanctions on Chinese companies, restricted Chinese businesses from buying American technology, and just recently issuing an executive order barring Americans from investing in 31 Chinese companies identified by the Defense Department with links to China’s military. The order argues that such investments posed a risk to national security as the investments were helping China fund its military ambitions.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has introduced legislation to bar Chinese companies with military ties from U.S. exchanges and welcomed Trump’s latest executive order.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s exploitation of U.S. capital markets is a clear and ongoing risk to U.S. economic and national security,” Rubio said. “Today’s action also lays down a clear marker for U.S. policy going forward — we can never put the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and Wall Street above American workers and mom-and-pop investors.”
The Trump administration has viewed China as the United States’ largest rival and the nation’s largest threat to national security, a view that Biden has stated he doesn’t agree with.
Last year, Biden said that China was “not competition” for the United States, a statement that prompted blowback from prominent members of both political parties, and what Trump called the former Vice President “being very naive about China.”
“China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man,” Biden said during an event in Iowa City back in May 2019. “I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.”
Biden has used similar lines about China in the past, while asserting that Russia posed the largest threat to the United States.
“I want China to succeed. The idea that they’re going to eat our lunch? They don’t have enough energy, they don’t have enough water,” Biden said back in 2017.
While the Trump administration’s current policy towards China has worked to level the playing field economically, it remains uncertain what exactly Biden’s proposal for dealing with China would entail.