Biden's Team Visits Asia
Insights and observations from the Asia Society network
MARCH 16, 2021 — As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visit East Asia this week for the Biden administration’s first cabinet-level engagement with Japan, South Korea, and China, tensions involving North Korea and the U.S.-China relationship dominate the agenda. The visit began with what Asia Society Executive Vice President Tom Nagorski called "a reassurance tour" to two long-time U.S. allies — South Korea and Japan — before moving to Anchorage, Alaska, where Secretary Blinken and Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, are to meet with senior Chinese officials.
In his first months in office, U.S. President Joe Biden has made clear that the Asia-Pacific will be a priority. In a virtual summit with other leaders of the so-called "Quad" — India, Japan and Australia — Biden said that "a free and open Indo-Pacific is essential. ... The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all of our allies in the region to achieve stability."
Visit this page for ongoing Asia Society commentary on the Biden team's initial visit to Asia.
Daniel Russel on the 'Inauspicious' Start of U.S.-China Talks in Alaska
Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) Vice President Daniel Russel appeared on BBC World Newshour to discuss the first day of this week's U.S.-China summit. "It was a particularly contentious and, I'd say, inauspicious beginning of the first round of face-to-face talks," he said. "It's not a surprise that there's a lot of frost in Alaska, that there's some tension in the relationship. A rancorous public display doesn’t necessarily inspire a lot of confidence, but it does reflect I think jockeying for position in signaling to audiences in their respective capitols and elsewhere that these diplomats are not going to gloss over the points of disagreements of be pushed around."
But, Russel added, "I have no doubt that once the press left the room and tempers cooled then the four of them, who are after all are all serious foreign policy veterans and who in fact know each other, moved into a more substantive exchange."
March 19, 2021, 5:07 p.m.
Kevin Rudd on China's Approach to Biden Administration: 'It Still Sees History As Being on China's Side'
Asia Society President and CEO Kevin Rudd delivered an address about Beijing's approach to the Biden administration on Thursday before engaging in conversation about all things U.S-China relations with Bill Bishop, editor of the popular Sinocism newsletter, and ChinaFile editor Susan Jakes. Rudd, also president of ASPI, noted that China "still sees history as being on [its] side — and that China is growing stronger while the United States, over time, is growing weaker." This sentiment was echoed by Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi during the contentious start of this week's U.S.-China summit in Alaska. Watch Rudd, Bishop, and Jakes in conversation below:
March 19, 2021, 4:59 p.m.
Rudd: Beijing Wants a Tactical Reset With Washington — But Will It Happen?
Kevin Rudd published a new essay assessing how the Chinese government views the Biden administration. The essay considers three elements:
- China’s changing official commentary on its overall national security environment;
- China’s statements and comments directed specifically at the future of the US-China relationship; and
- What Chinese political, military and economic actors have been actually doing in the real world over the last several months which give us some indication of where Chinese strategic behavior is really up to.
A brief excerpt:
Prior to the virus torpedoing both countries, from Beijing’s perspective, much of the bilateral relationship had already collapsed as a result of the trade war, the imposition of a range of technology sanctions against Chinese firms and the suspension of high-level strategic dialogue. The White House signing ceremony in January 2020 for the 'phase one' trade deal was seen in Beijing as a national humiliation. It received virtually zero media coverage at home. Indeed, [Chinese President] Xi Jinping had told his Politburo several months earlier when an earlier draft agreement had been rejected by the Chinese side that the Party needed 'to prepare for another 30 years of American provocation' and that the country now needed to embark on a new economic strategy of 'national self-reliance.'
March 18, 2021, 8:33 p.m.
Russel: 'China Feels That It Has the Wind at Its Back'
The Wall Street Journal has more details about this week's U.S.-China summit in Alaska, reporting that the Chinese negotiators plan to ask their U.S. counterparts to roll back policies implemented by President Donald Trump. Beijing will also propose that the two countries hold regular bilateral meetings and that Presidents Biden and Xi Jinping conduct a virtual summit in April during a global conference on climate change.
Daniel Russel said that China is approaching the Alaska summit with a great deal of confidence. "China feels that it has the wind at its back, that the East is rising and the West is fading," he said. He added that Beijing "will attempt to gain a better understanding of where the Americans are thinking the relationship will go and what might be possible."
In Politico, Russel said that the timing of the meeting with China is deliberate. “Obviously, the fact that they’re holding this meeting literally on the heels of alliance consultations in Tokyo and Seoul is no accident.”
March 18, 2021, 10:56 a.m.
Rudd and Rep. Tom Perriello: Americans Want the U.S. and China To Work Together To Combat Climate Change
In Slate, Kevin Rudd and former Rep. Tom Perriello argue that climate change is the most promising venue for cooperation between the United States and China, one that has the support of a majority of American voters.
"The reality is that strategic competition between China and and the U.S. in the years to come will include national security, currency, trade, technology, data privacy, and human rights," Rudd and Perriello write. "This does not, however, preclude cooperation in defined areas necessitated by either country’s national interests."
March 17, 2021, 2:34 p.m.
.@eosnos, author of 'Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now,' tells @TomNagorski about how then-VP Joe Biden's leadership style may have shaped Xi Jinping's own approach.— Asia Society (@AsiaSociety) March 17, 2021
Missed the discussion? You can watch the full program here: https://t.co/ZN9kOHqNgy pic.twitter.com/9qnAwjdYXZ
March 17, 2021, 1:57 p.m.
Rudd: The Old Form of Analysis About the U.S.-China Relationship — Strategic Engagement — Is Now Dead and Buried
Kevin Rudd appeared on CNBC to discuss how the U.S.-China relationship is evolving beyond the framework of strategic engagement.
"There are domains in each country which warrant cooperation, like climate change, pandemics, and, frankly, global debt management," he said. "So managed strategic competition is a bit like this: How do you embrace the red lines that each country has, the open competition which each country has, and the areas still where you require strategic cooperation to exist within a single strategic framework, which can be managed by people running the show both in Washington and in Beijing?"
March 17, 2021, 10:55 a.m.
WATCH: @AsiaPolicy's @dannyrrussel joins @CGTNOfficial to offer insight on Secretary of State @SecBlinken and @SecDef Lloyd Austin's trip to Asia this week and what might be on the agenda during the visit. Check out the full program: https://t.co/uSQTeUofSr— Asia Society (@AsiaSociety) March 17, 2021
March 17, 2021, 10:18 a.m.
Russel: Anchorage Meeting Makes Clear U.S. Is 'Very Much a Pacific Nation'
Daniel Russel offered the following thoughts in advance of the March 18 U.S.-China meeting an Anchorage, Alaska:
- "A joint meeting with the Chinese by the secretary of state and national security advisor is not without precedent. In the Obama administration, when the U.S. hosted the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in Washington, the secretary and national security advisor typically held an informal dinner for the senior Chinese representative the evening before the talks. Those conversations were far more open, candid, strategic and useful than most of the scripted exchanges that took place during the official delegation meetings."
- 'Meeting with foreign officials outside of either capital allows the visitor to focus on the meeting and frees the host from the distraction of regular duties. This was the logic behind the decision to organize an informal first meeting at Sunnylands between President Obama and newly selected Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2013. They were able to have extended and in-depth meetings and conversations over meals without the formalities and distractions. If senior Chinese officials came to Washington they would be expected to meet with their embassy, business groups, legislators, think tanks, and other U.S. officials."
- "The Alaska venue is significant because in addition to being the place where the secretary of state's plane normally refuels en route home from Asia, it is the westernmost part of the United States and draws attention to the fact that the U.S. is very much a Pacific nation — not merely a visitor to the Asia-Pacific as the Chinese often imply."
- "The timing is significant because it comes immediately on the heels of the first-ever Quad summit and the Biden administration's first high-level, in-person consultations in key Asian allied capitals. This signals that its emphasis on allies, partners, and democratic governments doesn't mean the administration is ignoring China."
- "The fact that both Blinken and Sullivan already know their Chinese counterparts and have extensive experience with past dialogues is an asset — this will not be their first rodeo. Their close relationships with Biden mean they speak with authority, and their history as close colleagues prevents Chinese "forum shopping" between the State Department and the White House."
- "This meeting is a chance for top foreign policy officials from the two countries to begin a strategic discussion of the respective world views and priorities of each side — to explain and to listen to each other. We should regard this meeting as an exploratory exchange, rather than a negotiation that resolves outstanding problems. The Anchorage meeting is far more likely to serve as an initial level-set for the two sides to think through their strategies than it is to launch any type of structured bilateral dialogue."
March 16, 2021, 1:41 p.m.