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The Morning Dispatch: Biden and Xi
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden and Xi

How President Biden's China policy will compare with his predecessor's.

Happy Tuesday! It’s high time that Matt send Anna and Victoria home on The Bachelor. They’re just not worth the drama. 

[Editor’s Note: For those readers who have joined us since last February, yes, Declan watches The Bachelor, and yes, it’s deeply embarrassing both for him and for us.]

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Biotech company Moderna announced yesterday that preliminary results from various studies show the two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine is “expected to be protective against emerging strains [of the coronavirus] detected to date,” including those in the UK and South Africa. As a proactive measure, the company is planning to develop and test a booster vaccine dose specifically targeted at neutralizing the South Africa variant.

  • Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. shut down its COVID-19 vaccine program after trial data showed that its two developmental vaccines failed to produce a significant enough immune response. Merck was not a participant in Operation Warp Speed, and the U.S. government was not relying on its inoculations in its near-term push to vaccinate the country.

  • In remarks yesterday, President Biden appeared to revise his administration’s COVID-19 vaccination goals upward, saying “we may be able to get to 1.5 million [doses] a day, rather than 1 million a day.” He added that he believes anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one “this spring,” and that the United States will be “heading toward herd immunity” by the summer.

  • President Biden signed an executive order yesterday reversing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the U.S. military. Biden also signed an executive order intended to support domestic manufacturers, businesses, and workers by ensuring that the federal government invests in American-made products.

  • The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen, President Biden’s pick for Treasury Secretary, on a bipartisan (84-15) basis yesterday. Yellen is the first woman to lead the Treasury Department.

  • After receiving assurances from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema that they would not vote to scrap the filibuster, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to move forward with a power-sharing agreement between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and himself. The agreement, or organizing resolution, is necessary because of the 50-50 split in Congress’ upper chamber.

  • House impeachment managers delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate last night, formally triggering the start of the trial. Arguments won’t actually begin until the week of February 8, however, to give Trump’s team time to prepare their defense and the Senate time to confirm key Biden nominees.

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former press secretary in the Trump White House, announced on Monday her candidacy for governor of Arkansas, a position her father Mike Huckabee held from 1996 to 2007.

  • Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced yesterday he will not seek a third term in 2022. “It has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy,” he wrote. “And that has contributed to my decision.”

  • Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, for his unfounded claims that its voting machines helped steal millions of votes for Biden during the 2020 election. 

  • The Supreme Court declined to address whether President Trump had violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause prohibiting federal officials from profiting from their positions, dismissing the case as “moot” given the end of the ex-president’s term. 

  • The United States confirmed 166,667 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 9.7 percent of the 1,714,449 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,759 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 420,963. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 109,936 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 41,418,325 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 22,734,243 have been administered.

Evaluating the Biden Administration’s Approach to China

In his first major speech since President Biden was sworn in last week, Chinese leader Xi Jinping addressed the World Economic Forum yesterday, calling for multilateral cooperation to pull the global economy out of its pandemic-induced slump. Xi—whose Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been accused by both the Trump and Biden administrations of perpetrating genocide against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities—called for global cooperation. “To go it alone and to slip into arrogant isolation will always fail,” he said. “Let us all join hands and let multilateralism light our way toward a community with a shared future for mankind.”

After a year that saw anti-China sentiment reach all-time highs in many countries around the world, Xi made a clear appeal to the West—and the Biden administration—in an apparent attempt to reset relations following the Trump years. “To build small circles or start a new Cold War, to reject, threaten or intimidate others, to willfully impose decoupling, supply disruption or sanctions, and to create isolation or estrangement will only push the world into division and even confrontation,” he said.

Biden, previously vice president and chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has a long history with the CCP. When China became a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001, then-Senator Biden told then-CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin that “the United States welcomes the emergence of a prosperous, integrated China on the global stage.” In 2012, then-Vice President Biden praised newly minted General Secretary Xi Jinping as “a guy who wants to feel it and taste it” and “prepared to show another side of the Chinese leadership.”

But a decade later, America’s bipartisan consensus on China has shifted—and Biden has shifted with it. “[Xi Jinping] doesn’t have a democratic … bone in his body,” Biden said in a primary debate last February. “This is a guy who is a thug, who in fact has a million Uyghurs in … concentration camps.” In a Foreign Affairs op-ed the following month, Biden said the U.S. needs to “get tough” on China and build “a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.”

Biden is now commander-in-chief and in charge of the United States’ foreign policy. Will he stick to his campaign rhetoric?

Early signs point to yes. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki brushed President Xi’s comments aside yesterday when asked about them by a reporter. 

“Our approach to China remains what it has been for the last months, if not longer,” she said. “China is engaged in conduct that hurts American workers, blunts our technological edge, and threatens our alliances and our influence in international organizations. … [Xi’s] comments don’t change anything.”

Yan Bennett, assistant director for the Center on Contemporary China at Princeton University, isn’t expecting the Biden administration to retreat to a more conciliatory posture with China after four years of Trump. The former president “definitely did put his finger on several concerns that the United States should pay attention to,” she told The Dispatch. “His style, it was really off-putting to many people, and they didn’t want to listen to him because of that.”

“Stylistically, [Biden] is going to be very different from the Trump administration,” she added. “I think the substance will largely stay the same, though.”

One example of such continuity came last week during Antony Blinken’s confirmation hearing to be Biden’s secretary of state. Asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham if he agreed with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s late determination that China is committing genocide against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, Blinken answered in the affirmative: “That would be my judgment as well.”

“We’ll engage the world not as it was, but as it is,” Blinken said in his opening statement. “A world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, mounting threats to a stable and open international system, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives, especially in cyberspace.”

“We can outcompete China, and remind the world that a government of the people, by the people, can deliver for its people.”

The comments were appreciated by Republicans who have been raising the alarm on China for years. 

“Antony Blinken sent some positive rhetorical signals last week about continuing a harder, bipartisan policy approach to the CCP and did not hesitate to say the CCP is committing genocide in Xinjiang,” Sen. Ben Sasse told The Dispatch on Monday. “We need to make sure signals are followed by action, and to do that we need to be sure that resources across our national security apparatus are actually matching the threat.”

The U.S. military announced over the weekend that the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier had entered the South China Sea, hours after China sent a fleet of fighter jets into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. John Noonan, a defense policy adviser for Sen. Tom Cotton, deemed the move a “good [and] serious step from the new administration.”

But tension between the U.S. and China will extend far beyond the Pacific Ocean—and even the stratosphere. Bennett added that the Biden administration would do well to prioritize competition in the cyber and space realms as well. “Control of space is very important for us, but people tend to forget it,” she said. Whoever “controls outer space controls the world.”

Derek Scissors—a resident scholar and China expert at the American Enterprise Institute—believes Biden’s economic approach to Beijing will also look similar to his predecessor’s. “You’ll get some elements of continuity, because Trump was basically implementing an AFL-CIO kind of trade policy,” Scissors told The Dispatch, referencing the prominent labor union position that trade deficits cost American jobs. “There’s a constituency that supports that within the Democratic Party. So I think [the Biden administration] will stick to the tariffs.”

Psaki said yesterday that Biden “will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China,” including evaluations of the tariffs that are currently in place. “The President is committed to stopping China’s economic abuses on many fronts,” she said, “and the most effective way to do that is through working in concert with our allies and partners.”

Beyond tariffs, Scissors said, the Biden administration is likely to prioritize technology and human rights issues with China, as well as climate change. But any advances within one of those pillars could come at the expense of progress in another.

“Those cut against each other, because the administration is going to want Chinese cooperation on climate,” he said. “Whether they get any meaningful cooperation is a different question. [China is] going to want something in return.”

Congressional Republicans—several of whom formed a China Task Force last year—will continue to hold the Biden administration’s feet to the fire regarding China on a variety of fronts. 

Rep. Liz Cheney said she believes President Biden’s recent climate initiatives will “undermine American energy dominance” and are “a gift to the Chinese Communist Party.”

She added that “it would be a grave mistake to grant any concessions to the CCP in exchange for its empty climate promises.”

“It’s understandable that the Biden Administration will want to put its own stamp on the China competition,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher. “I stand ready to work with them in a bipartisan manner where we agree. But to be clear, there can be no going back to the failed pre-2017 status quo, particularly when it comes to the critical technologies that are at the center of the competition.”

Worth Your Time

  • The tragedy that the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought comes in many forms. The more than 420,000 deaths attributed to the virus, the layoffs and small businesses failures resulting from drops in consumer demand and government restrictions, the mental health crisis sparked by prolonged mass isolation. In the New York Times earlier this week, Erica Green reports on the tragic second- and third-order effects of school closures nationwide, honing in on Clark County, Nevada as an example. Eighteen students in the district—the nation’s fifth largest—have died by suicide since schools switched to remote learning back in March. Some school administrators are adjusting their plans accordingly. “When we started to see the uptick in children taking their lives, we knew it wasn’t just the COVID numbers we need to look at anymore,” said Jesus Jara, the Clark County superintendent. “We have to find a way to put our hands on our kids, to see them, to look at them. They’ve got to start seeing some movement, some hope.”

  • The past four years have changed how Slate’s Will Saletan sees the divides in America. He’s been a liberal, a conservative, and now somewhere in the middle—but he no longer views those demarcations as the key fault lines in U.S. politics. No, he writes, “politics has become a fight between those who are willing to respect evidence and those who aren’t.” Writing at Slate, Saletan’s audience is mostly liberal, but he does not shy away from offending Democrats’ instinctual sensibilities. “If you hold Trump and his party responsible for [the post-election] madness, as I do, it’s tempting to write off the whole GOP,” he notes. “[But] propagandists thrive on polarization. They recruit and derange their followers by dismissing all criticism as partisan. To break their grip on the right half of the country, we need a fact-based alliance that crosses party lines.” He implores his readers to look for common ground everywhere. “In this fight, we need everyone who’s willing to play by the rules of deliberative democracy,” he concludes. “So, for at least the next four years, that’s my commitment: If you believe in settling disputes by consulting evidence, I’m on your team.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On yesterday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah take a close look at the Supreme Court’s “munsingwearing” of several cases—including two Trump emoluments cases—before turning to a Texas deportation case filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, pretrial release conditions for those who were arrested during the January 6 Capitol siege, and a Supreme Court original jurisdiction case. Plus: more on chicken sandwiches, with a special guest!

  • In this morning’s Uphill, Haley lays out why it’s unlikely 17 Senate Republicans will ultimately vote to convict former President Donald Trump. First, the echo chamber: “Every day that passes between January 6 and the beginning of trial arguments is another day Republican senators will be absorbing talking points against impeachment from conservative media sources and their constituents.” Second, GOP senators have been able to observe the fallout facing the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump earlier this month. With new primary challengers and backlash at home, it hasn’t been very appealing. Andrew also takes a look at some of the procedural questions that will come up during the start of the trial, including potential Trump defense team efforts to question the legitimacy of trying a former president. 

Let Us Know

As discussed above, the United States conflicts with China on myriad fronts: Economic, cyber, naval, space, technological, human rights, climate. Which do you view as the most pressing of these priorities, and how do you think the Biden administration should confront it?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).