The virtual summit held Monday between US President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping produced nothing in the way of an agreement or breakthrough on any of the issues preventing US-China relations from continuing their downward slide. This was hardly a surprise. Regardless of the hype projected by the media, the expectations for Monday’s talks were low. This was evident today in how both sides attempted to frame the results of the virtual summit. Officials from the Biden administration were quick to point out that the discussions covered a host of topics considered important by both sides. Taiwan, the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China and the present trade impasse were matters talked about at length. Biden was even able to bring up the prospect of arms control talks in the future. It is clear from his comments and positions that Biden continues to regard China as a competitor more so than an opponent or potential enemy. His administration will continue to work with China on matters of mutual interest and confront Beijing when events call for it. In other words, no changes in US policy are on the horizon.
What Biden and his foreign policy team refuses to acknowledge is that China already considers the US to be an adversary. This much is evident by China’s actions of late. While Chinese officials publicly call for greater engagement between the two powers, the PLAN and PLAAF apply more pressure to Taiwan and operate freely in the South China Sea without fear of the US response. China’s military and geopolitical moves in recent months make it clear Beijing is playing an intricate game of chess while the Biden administration is playing checkers. Chess is a contest of strategy where each move has a purpose. Checkers is a contest where strategy plays a minimal role, and the game results are largely determined in the first few moves.
Adversaries play chess. Friendly competitors play checkers.
With less than a day remaining until app stores in the United States remove TikTok and WeChat, China is now considering punishing US tech corporations with sanctions. Apple and Google were the two major tech companies mentioned, but any future sanctions would not be restricted to those two. The Chinese Commerce Ministry also stated today that it is considering adding Apple and Google to its “Unreliable Entities List” which is essentially a corporate blacklist. Companies on the list are restricted from investing in China, or engaging in trade with the Chinese market. Beijing has threatened sanctions and similar actions against US companies in the past, and as Sino-US relations continue to fray, the threatened sanctions grow bolder.
These moves seem to indicate that China is prepared to retaliate and risk an escalation. TikTok and WeChat are two popular Chinese apps. Their use contains grave national security implications for the US as it is believed that user information can be accessed by the Chinese government. The US government, along with many companies that do work with it, has banned its workers from using TikToc and WeChat. The apps parent companies have failed to address the issue to the satisfaction of the White House. WeChat has come under fire by the US government for being a platform for Chinese-language disinformation and can be subject to censorship by the Chinese government.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced he will be stepping down in the near future due to a worsening intestinal condition. Abe, who has held his position since 2012 will stay in office until a successor is chosen. That task will probably be completed in the coming weeks. The Liberal Democratic Party, of which Abe is a member, controls a majority in the Diet and has the power to make the choice.
Abe leaves as Japan’s longest-serving prime minister. His resignation will bring about significant ramifications for Japan, East Asia, US foreign policies, and defense strategies in the region. Abe left his stamp on Japan. A conservative nationalist, he came to power promising to kickstart Japan’s near-flatlining economy at the time, and counter China through assertive foreign policy, and strengthened Japanese military. “I’ve realized that Japan is expected to exert leadership not just on the economic front, but also in the field of security in the Asia-Pacific,” he said during an interview in 2013, not long after taking power. “There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. It shouldn’t take that path, and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view.”
Abe sought, and cultivated closer ties with the United States during his time as prime minister. He was the first foreign leader to visit President Trump after the 2016 election. Although the two leaders differed on trade issues, and Japan shouldering some of the cost of stationing 50,000 US troops in its country, countering China’s rising power was an area where the two leaders found common ground.
As the news of the prime minister’s resignation spreads around Asia it will be interesting to see how China responds. With Abe now a lame duck for the next few weeks, will Beijing decide the time is right to challenge Japan over the Senkaku Islands perhaps?