The Biden White House tried to shift the U.S.'s attention away from the strategic challenges presented by China in security, trade and climate, while there has been very little interaction between the rivals.
Now, the president is preparing for two global summits. He won't meet with China's Xi Jinping again but tensions and aggravations will still be displayed between the two world's largest economies.
After months of negotiations over his plans to invest billions in key industries and workers in the United States, Biden will be heading to the Group of 20 summit this weekend. These policies were promoted by Biden by promoting them as the solution for a new generational threat from China and by encouraging the rest of the globe to support his cause.
Xi, however, has decided to skip the G-20 and a subsequent summit on climate in Scotland because of COVID-19. This absence could be the most important aspect of the gatherings as the world awaits China's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Chinese leader will instead participate virtually in certain events, missing the informal pull asides and conversations that often lead to the greatest progress at international summits.
Biden has only spoken with Xi twice since he assumed office in January. However, they have already agreed to meet virtually by the end the year. Although the U.S. leader had hoped to prioritise strengthening America's international and domestic positions before seeking a one-on-one meeting with Xi directly, there seems to be a tinge regret that a meeting will not take place sooner.
As he viewed the trip, Jake Sullivan, White House national security advisor, stated Tuesday that "In an era where there is intense competition between the U.S.A and China, intense diplomacy, at the highest level, leader-level diplomacy are vital to effectively manage this relationship."
Biden is not far from China. The president also wants it to be at the forefront voters' minds.
In almost every speech he gives, he makes reference to the ascendant power. In major policy statements on everything, from U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan to his continued push for trillions of dollars in domestic infrastructure and social expenditure, he invokes the need counter and cajole China.
Biden stated this summer that "in the race for 21st century between democracy and autocracies we need to show that democracies are able deliver", as he pledged American COVID-19 vaccinations for the rest of the world. Biden urged the same "great discussion" about the effectiveness of democracies as he argued earlier this month for Congress to quickly increase the nation's debt limit.
Biden stated this month that "our infrastructure used to the be the best" as he presented his spending bills. He argued that passing his priorities was more than just symbolism. "Twelve other countries have better infrastructure than us, and China has trains capable of traveling 230 miles per hour for long distances."
But the months-long, painful negotiations over his spending plan, which includes hundreds and billions of dollars to help the U.S. transition away from fossil fuels may hinder Biden's ability pressure China to fulfill its environmental commitments. China has increased its coal production in the face of recent power outages.
Biden tried to refocus both the federal government's apparatus and global alliances like NATO towards standing up for Beijing. However, European diplomats are often confused by the U.S. increasing focus on China. Many European countries have taken Chinese infrastructure investment via its "Belt and Road Initiative", and successive U.S. administrations failed to stop China's Huawei from controlling the backbone for emerging 5G infrastructure.
Biden will once again attempt to sell the world his "Build back Better World" agenda at the G-20. This is an effort by advanced democracies and developing nations to offer an alternative to China's infrastructure initiative. The U.S. claims that these initiatives often come with coercive strings attached. Biden will also push American allies to fulfill their global vaccine donation obligations faster, after watching China's COVID-19 "vaccine diplomacy".
As Biden attempts to unite allies on China, the U.S. has made it a priority to engage with its "Quad” partners -- India Japan Australia. Biden's diplomatic agenda for this week includes resolving a geopolitical dispute with France over the U.S.-K. plan to supply Australia nuclear-powered submarines in order to better counter the China threat.
Last week, CIA Director William Burns spoke to Stanford University students and called China the "single greatest geopolitical threat" that the U.S. faces.
He stated that competition with China for the United States is present in virtually all domains.
The latest concern on the U.S. military front is the recent Chinese hypersonic weapon testing. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said it was very close to a "Sputnik Moment". This refers to the 1957 Soviet Union launch of the first satellite in space. It caught the entire world off guard and raised fears about America's technological laggardism.
According to the Chinese government, it was not testing a missile, but a spacecraft that could be re-used.
Some see the emergence a new Cold War. However, it is in many ways more complex than the decades-long Soviet war.
China and the United States are now both co-dependents and rivals. China and the U.S. need to cooperate in order to curb climate change and curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Despite the Trump-era tariffs that Biden kept in place, the two economies are tightly intertwined.
Beijing is seeking not only a rollback protectionist measures but also for the U.S. acceptance of China's rise to geopolitical equality with its own sphere. There is a striking consistency between Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, and their efforts to counter Chinese goals.
Matthew Goodman, senior vice-president for economics at The Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that the U.S. relationship to China "may well be the question of our time." Biden must maintain a lasting relationship with China in order to address existential issues like climate change. However, the situation of Taiwan, cyberattacks and attempts to return factory jobs to those who moved away from the US suggest that the two countries are also falling apart.
After the coronavirus pandemic, the two countries will have to come up with a plan for the global community.
The G-20 members spent $15 trillion collectively to get through the economic shut downs caused by the disease. This created high levels of debt which could prove problematic if the Federal Reserve tightens its monetary policy or interest rates rise from their relative lows.
According to Census data, $470 billion worth Chinese goods is expected to be imported by Americans this year. This figure is the highest since Trump's new tariffs were imposed in 2018. The two countries have remained closely linked through trade, and are dependent on each other's growth despite their differences.
Biden sees the two summits in the coming week as an opportunity to strengthen what he hopes is a Western alliance against China. Trump was largely left alone on China.
Sullivan states that China must understand that the United States has an affirmative macroeconomic agenda to stabilize the world's economy. He also says that there are steps that we will take to protect our workers as well as our businesses.
He said that the administration will wait to see what the Chinese government would do from there.