WASHINGTON • President Joe Biden is filling out his China policy team with staff whose past writing and speeches align with the tough tone towards Beijing that emerged under his predecessor Donald Trump, adding to evidence that the new administration would not revert to an earlier era of conciliation.
Among the new hires is Dr Melanie Hart, a former Centre for American Progress senior fellow, who will help oversee a review of the Trump administration policies including one that pressed countries to bar Huawei Technologies from their 5G networks.
She also co-wrote a report that highlighted the state subsidies fuelling Huawei’s rise and advocated countervailing support to vendors from the United States and allied nations.
The China team includes Dr Ely Ratner at the Pentagon and Ms Elizabeth Rosenberg at the Treasury Department. Both were previously at the Centre for a New American Security. In a report co-authored with colleagues there – including three others who have joined the Biden administration – Dr Ratner and Ms Rosenberg called for an “international consortium” with Japan and the Netherlands to build semiconductors and diversify the supply chain.
“The China challenge – too often described as a problem for the future – is here and now,” the group wrote in the congressionally mandated report.
In a separate report, Ms Rosenberg and Mr Peter Harrell, who is joining the National Security Council, called for the US to authorise funding to compensate targets of “Chinese coercive measures” and for the US to make itself irreplaceable in future supply chains.
The new appointees’ past work offers hints of what approach Mr Biden’s team may embrace.
The administration has been cautious in laying out its plans, saying that most policies from the Trump era are under review. The new team is unified in its message of working with allies before confronting China, in contrast to Mr Trump’s go-it-alone approach, which often veered from praise of President Xi Jinping to harsh criticism, depending on his mood and the day’s events.
“When we’re in the business of picking fights with our allies instead of working with them, that takes away from our strength in dealing with China,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in an interview with NPR media group.
In a sign of potential future policy, Dr Hart has called for a national lending programme through the Export-Import Bank that would “form a coalition of export credit agencies willing to support vendors from partner nations”.
She has also urged the US to make available financing for developing nations so they can access secure technologies and “high-standard governance principles for a free and open Internet”.
Dr Hart, who declined to comment, will be China policy coordinator serving the Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, a position that has not yet been filled.
Mr Blinken has called China the pre-eminent nation-state challenge facing the US, and competition in technology – on matters of supply chains, microchips, artificial intelligence and next-generation networks – is expected to form a centrepiece of the administration’s China policy.
One challenge that the incoming team faces is how politicised China policy has become. Last week, Republican Senator Rick Scott criticised the administration for a succession of moves including an initial refusal by Commerce Secretary-nominee Gina Raimondo to commit to keeping Huawei on a restricted trade list.
Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Mr Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, took fire from Republican Senator Ted Cruz in her confirmation hearing last month over a 2019 speech about Beijing’s strategy in Africa, at Savannah State University’s Confucius Institute, that some have described as an entity that disseminates Chinese propaganda.
“They have very experienced, expert thoughtful people in there,” Mr Robert Daly, director of the Wilson Centre’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, said of Mr Biden’s team. “But these problems are unprecedented and fraught with the need for compromise, and they haven’t reconciled that yet.”