US Lays Out Strategy to Outcompete China

Sadik Shaikh
11 Min Read

Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered a speech yesterday laying out the Biden administration’s multipronged strategy to outcompete China. This policy includes three pillars, which Blinken explained:

First, invest. The US will invest in its own capabilities to compete against China while meeting partner nations’ economic requirements and addressing any regional security challenges they present.

Invest

One key theme of America’s strategy is investing in its strengths in competitiveness, innovation and democracy while aligning them with a network of allies and partners acting with mutual purpose and shared interest. It seeks to reassert American economic leadership in the Indo-Pacific region by developing an innovative new economic framework known as Indo-Pacific Economic Foundation (IPEF), supported by 13 partners that represent over 44% of global GDP collectively. Furthermore, its report urges deeper cooperation with Europe and Asia through expanding Quad Initiative which brings together United States, Australia India Japan.

The report asserts that the Russia-Ukraine conflict demonstrates how any collapse of international order in one place threatens global stability, arguing that the US must strengthen and expand its capacity to respond by building partnerships globally and multilateral institutions as well as strengthening NATO with joint military exercises and training exercises. It further advocates for more resilient alliances and partnership systems by building on foundation of Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and NATO alliance membership to meet these challenges more effectively.

The report stresses the US must improve its competitive advantage in key economic sectors such as biomanufacturing, semiconductors and artificial intelligence. U.S. policy should focus on rapidly building manufacturing and research capacity, increasing supply chain diversification, working with allies to develop strategic technology capabilities, and maintaining U.S. technological dominance against Chinese competition. Robert Menendez and Jim Risch have introduced comprehensive bipartisan legislation, entitled the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, that will use all available tools of American strategy, economic and diplomacy to challenge China. Enhancing defense spending in Asia-Pacific regions, supporting Quad initiatives and deepening US economic engagement. Furthermore, this plan will bolster allies and partners with capabilities against China’s strategic coercion while making clear that US is not seeking to remake countries in its image but instead is working to form inclusive coalitions that preserve international rules-based order.

Align

The Biden administration’s approach to outcompeting China is multifaceted. It involves increasing American industrial and technological superiority through investments in critical infrastructure, tighter supply chain security, and working with allies, while at the same time “shaping the strategic environment” so as not to allow China’s movement away from universal values – an ambitious goal which depends on diplomacy to achieve.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided in several speeches the administration’s vision for how it plans to respond to China. He stressed the desire of Washington not to create unintended crises or spark another Cold War, while countering Beijing’s attempts at reshaping international institutions and global economic governance, human rights abuses within its borders, territorial disputes with neighbouring states and weaponization connectivity as areas for concern. Blinken added that Washington will also oppose unilateral changes to Taiwanese status quo but expect cross-strait differences to be settled peacefully by all parties involved.

Blinken’s speech and the 48-page NSS both stressed the need to engage allies to address China’s challenges, yet also stressed that America was not seeking a new Cold War with either China or Russia and did not wish for a divided world. Instead, this strategy sought to strike a balance between major-power competition and transnational problems such as climate change, pandemic threat, global food security concerns, energy transition needs, non-proliferation, non-proliferation as well as combatting illicit drugs and criminal activities.

The NSS aligns itself closely with two influential senators’ recent effort of proposing a bipartisan bill designed to increase America’s ability to compete with China. Their bill supports Quad initiative, strengthens bilateral ties with Indo-Pacific allies and increases US engagement with India; additionally it would promote freer global economic conditions while strengthening US diplomacy to achieve those objectives. However, by advocating an approach which relies on great power competition alone rather than SEP diversification efforts the NSS may inhibit such diversification efforts by restricting SEPs who seek diversifying diplomatic, economic and security partnerships through various means.

Compete

Antony Blinken, Secretary of State at George Washington University, presented a multipronged strategy to compete against China during his speech Thursday at George Washington University. These measures are “invest, align, and compete”, Blinken explained.

The United States must invest in its historical strengths, such as economic competitiveness, innovation capacity and democratic political system. Allies will also be targeted with investments so as to “ensure that their alliance can meet future challenges while upholding shared values as they arise”.

Investment in military capabilities designed to protect the US homeland – such as missile defenses, cyber deterrents, and other systems currently under development – is also vital, with this administration looking to enhance US industry so it can quickly produce proven capabilities, said Williamson.

Blinken noted the Quad, the security partnership among the United States, United Kingdom and Australia; as well as Asia-Pacific Security Initiative as examples of strengthening and expanding the international system through alliances of like-minded allies to strengthen and expand it. He also referenced Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity that gathers nations with shared values for economic cooperation.

Finally, the Biden administration plans to use competition as a means to shape Beijing’s strategic environment. Their goal is “shaping China’s behavior by raising costs associated with ambition while capitalizing on our own strengths in an interconnected world”, as stated by White House sources.

As the US cannot rely on direct engagement with Beijing to shape Chinese policies, it will compete across a broad spectrum of issues. Prioritize those which are both domestically important and globally consequential to it such as climate change mitigation, countering terrorism, proliferation control and global food security as well as seek economic opportunities within allies’ markets.

The United States seeks to avoid “a new Cold War or world of rigid blocs” and to support all nations regardless of size or strength in exercising the freedom to make choices that serve their interests, according to Mr. Haley. It will also strive to avoid confrontation with Russia so as to maintain international law and preserve an orderly world that protects national interests – the US seeking engagement with Moscow on issues it shares such as combating terrorists and drug trafficking, among other matters.

Conclusions

One aspect of the US’s strategy to counter China focuses on encouraging American companies to invest in technology that can be produced here at home, which includes decreasing their reliance on Chinese suppliers for key parts of their supply chains. Furthermore, the National Security Strategy lays out plans for protecting intellectual property theft or forced transfers by China; strengthening patent protections; implementing an openness agenda regarding data usage; and creating a Blue Dot network with Japan and Australia that promotes financial transparency and environmental sustainability are all measures included within its purview.

Another part of the strategy focuses on aligning US military allies against China, ensuring they share security interests and addressing China’s military buildup as threats arise. This approach may prove more successful than aggressive “decoupling” of US from China policies seen during 2020 discussions;

Diplomacy is a key element of this strategy, yet its purpose remains unclear. While the strategy declares that post-Cold War competition among great powers has ended and great power competition is now taking place, at the same time global challenges such as climate change, pandemics, food insecurity and terrorism require global cooperation – although its effect on China and Russia remains uncertain.

NSS appears ambivalent toward trade issues. On one hand, it asserts that free trade and economic partnerships have helped the US meet its national security objectives, but also warns that the global economic order may be disrupted by non-market actors violating longstanding rules to benefit their own companies or employees. Finally, it calls for new rules and standards pertaining to digital economies, market access, supply chain resilience, green economy, climate change mitigation or similar areas among democracies with similar views as the United States.

The Biden administration’s National Security Strategy is an admirable initiative, but details remain vague and resources appear limited given China’s increasing costs of confrontation. Until all strategic priorities can be funded equally, its China policy will remain lacking clarity, focus, and urgency.

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