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"After discussing the China challenge with allies, President Biden announced sanctions on leaders of the Myanmar coup, launched and fast-tracked a Defense Department review of China policy, and held his first phone call with Xi Jinping, all on the same day. February 10 marked his administration’s transition from gearing up to game on in relations with the PRC.

In their focus on increasing American competitiveness, leading a multilateral China strategy, advancing global human rights, and exploring channels for cooperation, the President and his team have struck an effective balance between determination to confront China and openness to change, between urgency and patience. Messages from the White House and Foggy Bottom have been clear, but measured, making it easier for allies to sign on to American initiatives and more difficult for Beijing to demonize and dismiss American statements. While none of Biden’s actions to date will surprise China’s leaders or cause them to reconsider their strategic goals, the sudden, sustained display of competence from Washington is sure to give them pause.

The next step should be an American proposal for limited dialogue and collaboration with China on combatting climate change, the pandemic, or both. If the United States does not direct and stabilize the relationship through action of this kind, continued Chinese aggression or crises will drive the bilateral agenda. The President has the broad strategy, the team, and the temperament for what he calls “extreme competition” with China. There is no point in waiting passively for China’s next move."

About the Author

Robert Daly image

Robert Daly

Director, Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

Robert Daly, the Director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, has compiled an unusually diverse portfolio of high-level work: He has served as a U.S. diplomat in Beijing; as an interpreter for Chinese and U.S. leaders, including President Carter and Secretary of State Kissinger; as head of China programs at Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and the University of Maryland; and as a producer of Chinese-language versions of Sesame Street. Recognized East and West as a leading authority on Sino-U.S. relations, he has testified before Congress, lectured widely in both countries, and regularly offers analysis for top media outlets.

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Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

The mission of Kissinger Institute on China and the United States is to ensure that informed engagement remains the cornerstone of U.S.-China relations.  Read more