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Biden Is Trying to Actually Contain China

Donald Trump's approach to containing China was to make Americans pay $3 more for a T-shirt. Nice try. That had no effect on where U.S. companies bought advanced semiconductor chips and other vital pieces of infrastructure, because so many of them were made in Chinese factories since there were no alternative sources. The U.S. dependence on China was just as big at the end of Trump's term as it was at the beginning.

Joe Biden has a different approach to containing China. For one thing, he cajoled Congress into passing the CHIPS Act and signed it. As a result of that bill (and the funding in it), Intel will be building one of the biggest semiconductor plants in the world in Ohio. The final cost is expected to be $100 billion, most of which will come from the private sector, but Biden played a key role in making it happen. Also, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company is building a $40 billion factory in Arizona. These two alone will make a real dent in the U.S. dependence on China and reduce the potential damage if China invades Taiwan. That is real progress. By contrast, making T-shirts a bit more expensive with tariffs isn't.

Another thing Biden is doing to box China in is to put together regional alliances of other powers that can challenge Chinese power. The first one is known as the Quad and consists of the U.S., Australia, Japan, and India, all Pacific powers. They are pledged to a free and open Indo-Pacific region. Among other goals are cooperation on cybersecurity and infrastructure. In the case of Australia, it has gone further. The U.S. will equip the Australian Navy with nuclear submarines. China understands that the group threatens it (especially the nuclear submarine stuff) and has lambasted it, but Biden is forging ahead.

This past weekend Biden continued to hem China in. He hosted a meeting at Camp David in the Maryland Catoctin Mountains with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, two Western-oriented leaders whose countries are geographically close to China. Both countries have powerful economies and growing militaries. The three countries will now work closely on economic security, technology and missile defense. They will also hold joint military operations as a warning to both China and North Korea that military action will be met with a swift response. This is not a new Asian NATO, but it does more closely link the three countries economically and militarily. Biden left open the possibility of some kind of trilateral treaty in the future. A formal treaty ratified by the Senate would make it more difficult for a future President Trump to wiggle out of it. None of these things are developments China wants.

Richard Haass, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, called Biden's move a quiet victory for him. Unlike Trump's bragging about tariffs, which did nothing to reduce China's power, Biden's moves on chips, the Quad, nuclear submarines, and now the Camp David agreement all represent moves to limit China's ability to project power.

In a way, none of this should be surprising. Biden's core competency is in fact in foreign policy. He was on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 30 years, including 2 years as chairman. As vice president, he was also deeply involved in foreign policy, in part because it was an area he knew a lot about and Barack Obama knew nothing about. Finally, with Republicans in charge of the House, foreign policy is one of the few major areas Biden can do most of what he wants to do without Republicans being able to obstruct it. (V)

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