June 29, 2021

Bipartisan support for taking on China goes only so far

By Vance Serchuk

With the Senate’s passage this month of a $250 billion bill to bolster U.S. industrial and scientific competitiveness against China, Washington celebrated a rare feat of political unity. Even as the legislation faces an uncertain fate in the House, the 68-to-32 Senate vote signals growing bipartisan support for rivalry with Beijing.

Unfortunately, the embrace of great-power competition comes with a critical caveat. Both parties’ enthusiasm for the concept abruptly ends when it requires doing something politically hard.

Despite solemn warnings about the enormity of the China threat, the policies it is inspiring have been mostly feel-good: promises of new U.S. manufacturing jobs and condemnations of Beijing’s transgressions. On initiatives that might discomfit voters or influential interest groups, on the other hand, Washington demurs — even when these are exactly what a serious competitive strategy requires.

The embrace of great-power competition comes with a critical caveat. Both parties’ enthusiasm for the concept abruptly ends when it requires doing something politically hard.

Consider trade. America’s friends in the Indo-Pacific have been vocal in warning that the rules of commerce in their region will be rewritten by Beijing unless Washington negotiates its own deals. Yet Democrats and Republicans alike have largely fled this challenge in recent years, viewing it as too politically fraught.

Thus even as the Biden administration has moved to reenter multilateral agreements rejected by President Donald Trump, such as the Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear framework, it has stayed aloof from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The 11-nation trade pact originally envisioned to cement U.S. economic leadership against China has instead become symbolic of its limits.

Read the full article from The Washington Post.

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