In a recent commentary for CSIS, Scott Kennedy characterized U.S.-China relations as “in a linear downward spiral,” in which the escalating trade war, the coronavirus pandemic, the Tech Wars, and growing geopolitical tensions “fed a sense of fatalism that the countries were heading toward the abyss of outright economic decoupling and a disastrous military conflict.”
But if the summit meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in November of last year was to be “the culmination of a year-long process that calmed the waters,” recent developments underscore the frailty of relations and the potential for conflict.
A recent case in point, as followers of ARPN may recall, was U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo’sspeech and subsequent comments at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California late last year in which the Secretary did not mince words, stating: “(…) make no mistake about it, China’s not our friend, and we need to be eyes wide open about the extent of that threat. I am ready to win, and I’m ready to do that with all of you, but it’s time to open our aperture and challenge the way we’ve done business in every way if we’re going to meet the threat China poses.”
When asked if there were other U.S. origin products or types of technologies that the U.S. Government was “looking at in a similar fashion right now” – i.e. would consider imposing export controls on, she said:
“Absolutely, in biotechnology, AI models, AI products, cloud computing, supercomputing. So short answer is yes.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote last week voted to strike down President Biden’s waiver of “Buy America” requirements for taxpayer-funded electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, indicates that Congress, too, may be willing to take a more confrontational stance towards China only days into the new year.
The waiver had watered down some more stringent rules proposed the Department of Transportation in August of 2022, most notably requirement to manufacture chargers with no less than 25% American-made components by cost.
The U.S. Senate voted to pass the resolution reversing the waiver in late 2023, with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) leading the charge arguing that “if we’re going to spend $5 billion of taxpayer money to build electric vehicle charging stations for the United States, it should be made by Americans in America using American products.”
While the president is expected to veto the resolution, its passage has several implications.
On the diplomacy level, it underscores the volatility of U.S.-Chinese relations and comes against the backdrop of sharpened rhetoric by China alleging that the U.S. is weaponizing export controls and using them as a tool, as evidenced by recent comments by Beijing’s Ministry of Commerce spokesperson in reference to a question about Dutch chipmaker ASML, which per Dutch government directive has stopped exporting certain chip components to China, allegedly due to U.S. pressure.
And on the resource policy level, it underscores the urgency for U.S. stakeholders to strengthen domestic critical mineral supply chains and diversify sources away from China as Congress takes a harder line on Beijing, particularly with election politics taking center stage and candidates and party committees from both major political parties attempting to tie opponents to China as views of Beijing continue to deteriorate amongst the electorate.