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Biden Can Pass His China Test

Summary:
The US-China relationship is “too big to fail.” Peaceful coexistence, based on a combination of cooperation and competition, will not always be easy; but with the United States in capable hands again, both sides have what it takes to make it work. MADRID – When the time comes to evaluate US President Joe Biden’s international legacy, one variable will be enormously significant: the relationship that his administration forges with China. Sino-American competition has become the main global geostrategic issue, but its terms are far from being irrevocably defined. Despite their obvious rivalry, the United States and China must try to understand each other, and Biden will certainly act with greater skill, responsibility,

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The US-China relationship is “too big to fail.” Peaceful coexistence, based on a combination of cooperation and competition, will not always be easy; but with the United States in capable hands again, both sides have what it takes to make it work.

MADRID – When the time comes to evaluate US President Joe Biden’s international legacy, one variable will be enormously significant: the relationship that his administration forges with China. Sino-American competition has become the main global geostrategic issue, but its terms are far from being irrevocably defined. Despite their obvious rivalry, the United States and China must try to understand each other, and Biden will certainly act with greater skill, responsibility, and broad-mindedness than his predecessor. This is just as well, because global peace and prosperity in the twenty-first century will depend on the quality of the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

US-China cooperation is indispensable in resolving major global challenges, from the latent risk of a nuclear holocaust to climate change, international terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and pandemics. At the same time, competition is unavoidable – and even welcome – in trade, technology, space, sports, and many other fields.

For such a complex relationship to work well, both powers must agree on a common set of rules, instead of trying to impose their own unilaterally. Identifying multilateral channels that could revive the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization is particularly urgent. Another priority is to establish cyberspace norms that would prevent massive electronic-piracy operations like the recently discovered SolarWinds hack in the US, which appears to be the work of Russia.

A relationship built on cooperation and competition must exclude the open confrontation sought by Trump and his hawks. Caricaturing China as an existential threat, the Trump administration launched a tariff and technology war that the Chinese government inevitably fought blow for blow. In an open letter published in 2019, 100 leading US foreign-policy and security experts worried that treating China as if it were an enemy destroys strategic trust and paves the way to its becoming one. As Jake Sullivan (Biden’s national security adviser) and Kurt M. Campbell (the designated White House coordinator for the Indo-Pacific region)

Javier Solana
President of @ESADEgeo - Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. Distinguished Fellow at @BrookingsInst.

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