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Biden Clashes With China and Russia in First 60 Days

Its pathway to power is building new networks rather than disrupting old ones. Economists debate when the Chinese will have the world’s largest gross domestic product — perhaps toward the end of this decade — and whether they can meet their other two big national goals: building the world’s most powerful military and dominating the race for key technologies by 2049, the 100th anniversary of Mao’s revolution.

Their power arises not from their relatively small nuclear arsenal or their expanding stockpile of conventional weapons. Instead, it arises from their expanding economic might and how they use their government-subsidized technology to wire nations be it Latin America or the Middle East, Africa or Eastern Europe, with 5G wireless networks intended to tie them ever closer to Beijing. It comes from the undersea cables they are spooling around the world so that those networks run on Chinese-owned circuits.

Ultimately, it will come from how they use those networks to make other nations dependent on Chinese technology. Once that happens, the Chinese could export some of their authoritarianism by, for example, selling other nations facial recognition software that has enabled them to clamp down on dissent at home.

Which is why Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, who was with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken for the meeting with their Chinese counterparts in Anchorage, warned in a series of writings in recent years that it could be a mistake to assume that China plans to prevail by directly taking on the United States military in the Pacific.

“The central premises of this alternative approach would be that economic and technological power is fundamentally more important than traditional military power in establishing global leadership,” he wrote, “and that a physical sphere of influence in East Asia is not a necessary precondition for sustaining such leadership.”

The Trump administration came to similar conclusions, though it did not publish a real strategy for dealing with China until weeks before it left office. Its attempts to strangle Huawei, China’s national champion in telecommunications, and wrest control of social media apps like TikTok, ended up as a disorganized effort that often involved threatening, and angering, allies who were thinking of buying Chinese technology.

Part of the goal of the Alaska meeting was to convince the Chinese that the Biden administration is determined to compete with Beijing across the board to offer competitive technology, like semiconductor manufacturing and artificial intelligence, even if that means spending billions on government-led research and development projects, and new industrial partnerships with Europe, India, Japan and Australia.

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Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China

WASHINGTON — If anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, many experts and administration officials say, it is the fate of Taiwan.

Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.

Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America’s “one China” stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.

As China’s power and ambition grow, however, and Beijing assesses Washington to be weakened and distracted, a debate is underway whether the United States should make a clearer commitment to the island’s defense, in part to reduce the risk of a miscalculation by China that could lead to unwanted war.

foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it devises its wider Asia strategy. At the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, which is reviewing its military posture in Asia, officials are re-evaluating core tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.

American officials warn that China is growing more capable of invading the island democracy of nearly 24 million people, situated about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, whose status has obsessed Beijing since Chinese nationalists retreated and formed a government there after the country’s 1949 Communist revolution.

Last month, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.

The United States has long avoided saying how it would respond to such an attack. While Washington supports Taiwan with diplomatic contacts, arms sales, firm language and even occasional military maneuvers, there are no guarantees. No statement, doctrine or security agreement compels the United States to come to Taiwan’s rescue. A 1979 congressional law states only that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means” would be of “grave concern to the United States.”

The result is known as “strategic ambiguity,” a careful balance intended both to avoid provoking Beijing or emboldening Taiwan into a formal declaration of independence that could lead to a Chinese invasion.

essay in the September issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that declared that strategic ambiguity had “run its course.”

“The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan,” Mr. Haass wrote with his colleague David Sacks.

Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks added that the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, may question America’s willingness to defend its alliances after four years under President Donald J. Trump, who railed against “endless wars” and openly questioned the United States’ relationships and security commitments. While more hawkish-sounding, a clearer pledge would be safer, they argued.

“Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks wrote.

remarks in February at an event hosted by The Washington Post, Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary and C.I.A. director who served under presidents of both parties, including Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, called Taiwan the facet of U.S.-China relations that concerned him the most.

Mr. Gates said that it might be “time to abandon our longtime strategy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan.”

The notion gained another unlikely adherent when former Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime dove on military issues, argued in an opinion essay in The Hill newspaper last month that on human rights grounds, the United States must guarantee that a thriving Asian democracy be protected from “forcible absorption into an unashamedly brutal regime that exemplifies the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Mr. Frank cited China’s “imperviousness to any other consideration” than force as reason to “save 23 million Taiwanese from losing their basic human rights.”

Though of limited value in territorial terms, Taiwan in recent years has also gained a greater strategic importance as one of the world’s leading producers of semiconductors — the high-tech equivalent of oil in the emerging supercomputing showdown between the United States and China, which faces microchip supply shortages.

sent dozens of warplanes over the Taiwan Strait days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration in January, the State Department released a statement declaring America’s “rock solid” commitment to the island. Mr. Biden raised the subject of Taiwan during his phone call in February with Mr. Xi, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised their concerns about the island during their meeting last month in Anchorage with two top Chinese officials.

“I think people are bending over backward to say to China, ‘Do not miscalculate — we strongly support Taiwan,’” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ms. Glaser said she had been surprised at the Biden team’s early approach toward Taiwan, which so far has maintained the Trump administration’s amplified political support for the island, a posture some critics called overly provocative. She noted that Mr. Blinken had recently urged Paraguay’s president in a phone call to maintain his country’s formal ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from Beijing, and that the U.S. ambassador to Palau, an archipelago state in the Western Pacific, recently joined a diplomatic delegation from that country to Taiwan.

“That is just really outside of normal diplomatic practice,” Ms. Glaser said. “I think that was quite unexpected.”

But Ms. Glaser does not support a more explicit U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defense. Like many other analysts and American officials, she fears that such a change in policy might provoke China.

“Maybe then Xi is backed into a corner. This could really cause China to make the decision to invade,” she warned.

billions of dollars in arms sales under the Trump administration that featured fighter jets and air-to-ground missiles allowing Taiwanese planes to strike China. Such equipment is meant to diminish Taiwan’s need for an American intervention should it come under attack.

But Mr. Colby and others say the United States must develop a more credible military deterrent in the Pacific region to match recent advances by China’s military.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, H.R. McMaster, a national security adviser for Mr. Trump, said the current ambiguity was sufficient.

“The message to China ought to be, ‘Hey, you can assume that the United States won’t respond’ — but that was the assumption made in June of 1950, as well, when North Korea invaded South Korea,” Mr. McMaster said.

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The U.S.-China Talks: A Meeting of Friends and Foes

The Biden administration has not exactly been rolling out the red carpet for this meeting. Yesterday it announced subpoenas against top Chinese companies suspected of threatening national security, and last week Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he believed the Chinese government was committing “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. What does this tell us about how the administration plans to approach diplomacy toward China?

It tells you that the Biden administration is, so far, sounding a lot tougher on China than many expected. That should be no surprise. While the Republican talking point during the campaign was that Biden would give away the store to the Chinese, the history of Biden and his top foreign policy aides, Blinken and Sullivan, suggests a very different approach. They are focused on the technological competition with China, the threat of continuing cyberattacks (and China is believed to be behind one of the biggest in recent weeks, aimed at Microsoft systems), and new forms of military competition.

As Sullivan pointed out in an essay published last year, it’s possible that China is looking to follow the American model from 130 years ago, building up its navy and expanding its reach, to push us farther and farther east in the Pacific. But it is equally possible that its strategy is to deploy its 5G networks around the world, make nations dependent on its aid, its infrastructure projects and its vaccines, and spread influence that way. Or it may try both. In any case, we now have a full-scope competitor — an economic and technological competitor and a military adversary.

The subpoenas that Biden’s Commerce Department served to the Chinese companies were sent out under a Trump administration policy, which allows the executive branch to intervene on sales of foreign-made communications equipment if national security is seen as at risk. Would you say U.S.-China relations represent a rare area in which Biden is not seeking a hard break from his predecessor’s policies?

Certainly the Biden team has not walked away from the instruments of power exercised by Trump; I think it realizes that Trump accurately identified the importance of addressing the China challenge. The Biden camp just believes he confronted it the wrong way. Trump thought he could ban Chinese technologies, and impose sanctions on the country until it came to the bargaining table.

But China is too big to sanction effectively. And at the end of the day, the U.S. has to innovate and produce competitive products. To the Biden team, that means we need our own answer to 5G networks, because right now there is no American-made alternative. It means we need to make advances in semiconductors and artificial intelligence, even if that requires some innovative, government-backed industrial policy.

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Biden Goals Converge in Asia: Rebuilding Alliances and Countering China

WASHINGTON — Two ambitions lie at the center of President Biden’s foreign policy agenda: rebuilding ties with frustrated allies and assembling a united front on China.

This week, he is attempting both as he dispatches two of his most senior envoys to Japan and South Korea in his administration’s highest-level foreign travel since it took office in January.

The visits to the United States’ strongest partners in East Asia are a prelude to the Biden administration’s opening round of face-to-face contact with Beijing. One of the envoys, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, will travel on to Alaska and join Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, in a meeting with China’s two top diplomats.

The administration sees the gathering as a chance to establish ground rules and set red lines for a relationship that Mr. Blinken has called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.” American officials have described it as “a one-off session” to identify issues where Washington can work with Beijing — and then “lay out, in very frank terms, the many concerns that we have,” Mr. Blinken told Congress last week.

month-old military coup in Myanmar and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which remain firmly in place after the Trump administration’s failed flirtation with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

The decision to make Japan the first destination for Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin was seen as a significant and reassuring development in Tokyo, which worked hard to maintain close ties with Mr. Trump even as he demanded huge increases in payments to keep American troops in the country. On Friday, the White House announced that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would be the first foreign leader to meet with Mr. Biden in Washington.

“At the end of the Trump administration, with regard to Asia, we were bickering with our allies over how much to pay for the cost sharing in terms of defense,” said Victor Cha, who oversaw Asia policy at the White House during the George W. Bush administration and advises the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We had a very unilateral view when it came to alliances as a nation, almost a disdainful view with regard to them.”

“At the same time,” Mr. Cha said, “China was using its economic leverage all around the region to bully other countries.”

The Trump administration took an often contradictory approach toward China. Mr. Trump often flattered its authoritarian leader, Xi Jinping, as he tried to strike trade deals. At the same time, his administration criticized Beijing’s human rights abuses, military and cyberspace incursions, and assaults on democracy.

The Biden administration’s strategy could prove just as dizzying. Mr. Blinken has described seeking a relationship that is based at once on cooperation, competition and, as needed, confrontation with China.

Tokyo has grown more vocal as the Chinese military has made incursions around islands that Japan administers in the East China Sea, known in Japan as the Senkakus and in China as the Diaoyu. Seoul has used its temperate relations with Beijing as a pressure tactic against North Korea, which depends on China to keep its economy afloat.

For their part, China’s leaders have said they are eager to get the relationship with the United States back on an even keel. Some analysts have warned that any steps toward a détente could just buy China more time to develop technological and military capabilities before a diplomatic breakdown.

“As two countries with different social systems, China and the United States naturally have differences and disagreements,” Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, said at a news conference in Beijing on March 7. Mr. Wang and Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, will be meeting with Mr. Blinken in Alaska.

Mr. Wang called it normal to have a “healthy competition on a fair and just basis for the purpose of self-improvement and mutual enhancement, rather than finger-pointing or zero-sum competition.”

Yet Chinese leaders also appear concerned about the Biden strategy of rallying allies into a coherent bloc against China, something that could hurt Beijing politically and economically. Last week, for example, the Quad countries announced an effort to ship coronavirus vaccines to Southeast Asia, countering China’s own efforts at so-called vaccine diplomacy.

Mr. Wang cited the pandemic, the economic recovery from it and climate change as areas where China and the United States could cooperate, though he provided no details. But he said that the United States and others had no right to interfere in what he described as internal matters — human rights abuses against ethnic Uighurs in China’s western Xinjiang region, efforts to subvert democracy in Hong Kong and surveillance and repression in Tibet.

a cost-sharing agreement for stationing American troops in South Korea, a presence that Mr. Trump had also threatened to end.

After the meetings in Tokyo and Seoul, Mr. Austin will travel to India, which is at its lowest point in relations with China in decades after a deadly border incursion last summer. Mr. Blinken will arrive in Alaska on Thursday for the meeting with the Chinese envoys.

As he wished Mr. Blinken luck for the talks, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that “we cannot treat them as a normal adversary.”

“We are truly in an ideological struggle fighting for democracy against authoritarianism and promoting freedom over oppression,” Mr. McCaul said. He added that the United States had for four decades “turned a blind eye” to China’s ruling Communist Party in hopes of persuading its leaders to follow international norms.

“Unfortunately, it just didn’t work,” Mr. McCaul said.

Lara Jakes and John Ismay reported from Washington, and Steven Lee Myers from Seoul.

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Blinken Will Meet Chinese Officials After Asia Tour Next Week

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, will meet next week with two senior Chinese government officials, the Biden administration’s first in-person diplomatic encounter with its chief foreign rival.

In a statement on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said that Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan would meet in Anchorage next Thursday with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and its top diplomat, Yang Jiechi.

The meetings will follow visits next week by Mr. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III to Japan and South Korea, two core U.S. allies that have fraught relations with China and that would expect to be consulted before an engagement like the one planned with Beijing.

“It was important to us that this administration’s first meeting with Chinese officials be held on American soil, and occur after we have met and consulted closely with partners and allies in both Asia and Europe,” said Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

a speech by Mr. Blinken, as well as a new White House national security strategy document, identified China as the top nation-state threat to the United States.

In his speech, Mr. Blinken said managing the relationship with China would be “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century” and called China the one country able “to seriously challenge the stable and open international system.”

Mr. Biden spoke to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, last month, warning him that he intended to challenge China’s “coercive and unfair economic practices” as well as its record on human rights and its crackdown on Hong Kong, according to a White House summary of the call. But Mr. Biden also said he hoped to cooperate with Mr. Xi on matters like the coronavirus, nuclear proliferation and climate change.

U.S. officials did not describe a specific agenda for the Anchorage meeting. Mr. Blinken said on Twitter that he looked forward to engaging the Chinese officials “on a range of issues, including those where we have deep disagreements.”

Mr. Blinken will stop in Alaska on the return leg of his Asia trip, his first foray out of Washington amid the coronavirus pandemic. Until now Mr. Blinken, to his frustration, has been conducting diplomacy exclusively by telephone and video. Mr. Blinken has been vaccinated, but officials have cited the risks for others accompanying him as a reason for his limited travel to date.

He will depart from Washington on Monday, with planned stops in Tokyo and Seoul before proceeding to Anchorage. Mr. Austin, who will travel on a separate plane, will depart from Seoul for meetings with officials in India, the Defense Department said.

Testifying on Wednesday before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Mr. Blinken said the meeting would be an opportunity “to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behavior,” including the effects of Chinese trade practices on American workers.

But he said he and Mr. Sullivan would also “explore whether there are other avenues for cooperation” with Beijing.

Mr. Blinken added that the meeting was not the start of a strategic dialogue, and that follow-up meetings would depend on “tangible progress and tangible outcomes” on Washington’s concerns.

The meeting in Alaska will be the first known in-person diplomatic contact between American and Chinese diplomats since June, when the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo, held a tense and largely fruitless meeting with Mr. Yang in Hawaii.

On Friday, Mr. Biden will meet virtually with the leaders of Australia, Japan and India, a group collectively known as “the Quad,” and one whose implicit purposes is to check Chinese economic and military influence in Asia.

The strategy document released by the White House last week, and overseen by Mr. Sullivan, outlined plans for rebuilding the United States’ economy, democracy and foreign alliances to establish a “position of strength” against rivals like Russia and China.

“By restoring U.S. credibility and reasserting forward-looking global leadership, we will ensure that America, not China, sets the international agenda,” the White House plan said.

But Mr. Biden has tread cautiously so far and has not yet taken any major policy actions toward China. Even President Donald J. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports are under review, Mr. Sullivan said last week. And the Pentagon is conducting a monthslong review of its China policies and force posture in Asia.

Chinese officials have publicly said that they do not seek confrontation with the United States or global dominance, and that the Trump administration is to blame for a relationship between Washington and Beijing that analysts say is at its lowest point in decades.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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Remote C.I.A. Base in the Sahara Steadily Grows

The Biden administration’s review comes at a time when skyrocketing waves of terrorism and violence have seized Africa’s Sahel region, a vast sub-Saharan scrubland that stretches from Senegal to Sudan, and is threatening to spread. The Islamic State in Libya has actively sought fresh recruits traveling north from West African nations, including Senegal and Chad.

Armed groups have attacked bridges, military convoys and government buildings. The threat is pushing south from the Sahel into areas previously untouched by extremist violence, including the Ivory Coast, Benin, Togo and Ghana, where the Pentagon has a logistics hub.

Security has worsened to the point where the Pentagon’s Africa Command told the Defense Department’s inspector general last year that it had abandoned for the moment a strategy of weakening the Islamist militants, and instead was mainly trying to contain the threat.

“Security continues to deteriorate in the Sahel as instability spreads and threatens coastal West Africa,” Colin Kahl, Mr. Biden’s nominee to be the Pentagon’s top policy official, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written responses to questions in advance of a hearing last week. “We cannot ignore that persistent conflict in Africa will continue to generate threats to U.S. personnel, partners and interests from violent extremist organizations.”

The Pentagon’s Africa Command operates MQ-9 Reaper drones from Niamey, Niger’s capital, 800 miles southwest of Dirkou; and from a $110 million drone base in Agadez, Niger, 350 miles west of Dirkou. The military has carried out drone strikes against Qaeda and Islamic State militants in Libya, but none since September 2019.

Some security analysts question why the United States needs both military and C.I.A. drone operations in the same general vicinity to combat insurgents in Libya and the Sahel. In addition, France, which has about 5,100 troops in the Sahel region, began conducting its own Reaper drone strikes from Niamey against insurgents in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group concluded that the military-first strategy of France and its allies, including the United States, has failed. The research and advocacy organization, which focuses on conflict zones, noted in its report that focusing on local peacemaking efforts could achieve more.

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For Biden, Deliberation and Caution, Maybe Overcaution, on the World Stage

But the early indications suggest that Mr. Biden is moving slower on the world stage than he is at home. And that is partly rooted in his belief, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in an interview, that the United States will regain its global influence only after it has tamed the pandemic, restored economic growth and reset its relationships with allies.

The most telling of his decisions centers on Saudi Arabia. After banning the arms sales to halt what he called a “catastrophic” war in Yemen, Mr. Biden released an intelligence report about Prince Mohammed’s role in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist, and imposed new penalties on the crown prince’s personal royal guard, the so-called Rapid Intervention Force. But Mr. Biden stopped at the next step — barring travel by or threatening criminal prosecution of the 35-year-old crown prince.

The president had not told his staff in advance whether he favored direct action, even though he said in the campaign that the Saudi leadership had “no redeeming social value.”

Mr. Sullivan said he and his staff went to Mr. Biden with “a broad-based recommendation that a recalibration of the relationship, rather than a rupture of the relationship, was the right course of action.”

Mr. Biden, Mr. Sullivan said, “pressed us on our assumptions as he worked through the pros and cons of every aspect of the policy,” including the staff’s conclusion that keeping a channel open to the crown prince was the best path to “resolving the war in Yemen.”

But the final decision was a reminder, other aides said, that Mr. Biden emerged from his three decades in the Senate with both a belief in nurturing even the most difficult of alliances — and a dose of realism that the United States could not prevent the crown prince from becoming the next king.

“We deal, unfortunately, every single day with leaders of countries who are responsible for actions we find either objectionable or abhorrent, whether it’s Vladimir Putin, whether it’s Xi Jinping,” Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state and Mr. Biden’s longest-serving foreign policy adviser, said on Wednesday on “PBS NewsHour.”

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