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Containing China is Biden’s clear goal


Imagine that a superpower declares war on a great power and no one notices. Joe Biden this month launched an all-out economic war against China – all but pledging the US to prevent its rise – and for the most part, Americans have not responded.

Sure, there’s Russia’s war on Ukraine and inflation at home is something to be concerned about. But history will most likely record Biden’s move as the US-China rivalry comes out of the closet. Now, the US is committed to doing everything in the absence of a real war to prevent China’s rise.

It is not clear that the American corporation, or its foreign partners, fully understood what was about to happen to them. For decades, serious businesses have base their growth model on the China strategy – whether it’s exporting to China, or manufacturing there, or both. Unless the company’s product is a luxury or agricultural product, Biden’s Dissociation Technology will hit their bottom line. His escalation also marks the final break in decades of US foreign policy that has assumed China’s global integration will tame its rise as a great power.

America’s transition to containment of China is bipartisan. Donald Trump targeted Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese telecommunications groups, and targeted regulated trade. Trump’s Democratic successor is another way to isolate China’s entire high-tech sector. Notably, no prominent voice has been raised in either political party against the US-China decoupling. Washington’s China Politics Now it’s about which side can get more to the right of the other.

There are two big risks to Biden’s gamble. The first is that the US is now close to achieving China’s implicit goal of regime change in China. The new restrictions are not limited to the export of high-end US semiconductor chips. They extend to any advanced chip made with US equipment. This incorporates mostly non-Chinese high-end exporters, whether based in Taiwan, Korea or the Netherlands. The ban also extends to “Americans,” which includes green card holders as well as U.S. citizens. That suggests a binary choice between the US or China. Most will choose the US. But there are tens of thousands of Chinese green card holders who would now be inclined to believe Beijing’s claim that there can be no such thing as divided loyalty.

The impact on the Chinese economy will be much larger than the word “semiconductor” implies. Biden’s move is based on the premise that the Chinese military can use any advanced chip, including to develop nuclear weapons and hypersonic missiles. It also means cutting back on China’s goal of global artificial intelligence dominance by 2030. But all such chips have dual uses, meaning the US is now committed to keeping China out in the future. all kinds of civilian technologies that make up a modern economy.

In the eyes of most Americans and many Western countries, such steps seem like a fair response to China’s decades of intellectual property theft that have fueled military growth. of this country. In the eyes of the Chinese, it will be like America wants to keep communist China forever. Changing modes is not a big leap.

The more imminent risk is that Biden’s gamble could spur Xi Jinping, China’s president, to accelerate the reunification of Taiwan. The island nation is by far the largest producer of high-end chips in the world. That move by Biden took place not long before China’s 20th Party CongressNotably, will end on Saturday with a third five-year term for Mr. Xi. Many China watchers think Xi wants to put the party congress behind him before moving on his oath in fixing the Taiwan problem. Biden could have offered a violent solution to China’s Taiwan policy. He can also give Xi pause. We will find out.

What we do know as national security is once again the lens through which Washington views the world. Rest in peace “the world is flat” and “the end of history”. The US has confirmed a zero-sum metric where the rise of China is seen as valued by the US. You could say Biden is belatedly reacting to what China has been saying for years – with Mr. But that can hardly reassure you. It means that the world hegemon and its sole major competitor now see each other through the same lens. As usual in history, no one else had much of a say.

Will Biden’s gamble succeed? I am not amused by the prospect of discovery. For better or worse, the world had just changed with a groan, not a bang. Let us hope it stays that way.

edward.luce@ft.com

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