Biden’s Near-Secret Successes in Countering China | Newsweek Opinion

Biden’s Near-Secret Successes in Countering China | Newsweek Opinion

By Daniel Silverberg

This opinion piece was originally published by Newsweek

June 22, 2023 — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken‘s trip to Beijing this past weekend caps a series of highly underappreciated foreign policy developments that rotate around the singular objective of countering China. Earlier this month, in Riyadh, Blinken cajoled the Saudis to stick with the U.S. against Chinese growing regional influence.

In New Delhi, national security advisor Jake Sullivan this past week met with senior Indian leadership to coordinate the upcoming visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a highly unusual move for a national security advisor and reflective of the priority the White House puts on this relationship. And in the White House itself, Amos Hochstein, a key figure in the fight against China and de facto emissary to Congress, officially moved from the State Department to an office across the street from the president.

Underlying these counter-China moves is a push by the Biden team to safeguard the green transition from Chinese dominance. Amid a sea of challenges coming from China, the administration is focusing its efforts on those economic challenges it views as of the greatest consequence to the US, and tops on the list is making sure China does not control green supply chains. Biden is willing to pursue a highly realist, even transactional approach to achieve this objective.

Biden’s animating principle is that the United States cannot allow China to control the supply chains undergirding the green transition. In the words of Hochstein, the president’s special coordinator for global infrastructure and energy security (PGII), “We cannot have a monopoly in the energy sector just to [face] the same national security risks we faced in the 20th century.” The energy transition will be powered by access to critical minerals, the processing of which China currently controls, and the Biden administration is hellbent on ensuring that the U.S. and partners are not captive to China for access to these materials. In the eyes of the White House, the economic struggle with China is just as significant, if not more so, as the military one.

Blinken’s Saudi visit was, in large part, driven by this economic maneuvering. Reporters before Blinken’s visit predicted tensions between the U.S. and the kingdom as a result of the Saudi’s latest pledge to cut oil production, a move that last October evoked a white-hot response from the White House. Yet Blinken, similar to the administration’s posture last April, made zero reference to oil production in his press conference with the Saudi foreign minister. The State Department’s official statement likewise focused on regional cooperation and clean energy issues.

Highlighted during the president’s visit last summer and numerous trips by Biden emissaries, including Jake Sullivan’s visit to the kingdom last month, the administration seeks to deploy Saudi leverage against Chinese control of critical minerals that will power the green transition and ensure the Saudis pursue a balanced approach vis a vis the US and China. There were numerous references to clean energy in Blinken’s statements, to which the Gulf Cooperation Council under Saudi leadership pledged $3B last July. The administration is willing to turn the other cheek on OPEC production cuts to secure broader economic cooperation against China.

In complementary fashion, the administration is taking a conciliatory approach towards India, despite concerns about the Modi government’s democratic regression and India’s continued purchase of Russian crude at a record pace. India stands as a rare “good news” story amidst Chinese dominance, with an expectation that it will “outshine” China economically over the next two years, with a projected growth rate of 6 percent compared to China’s 5.4 percent.

While Vietnam is currently the main recipient of efforts to diversify trade away from China, the administration is banking on India to be the go-to trade hub over the next decade. In Biden’s view, India can help the U.S. diversify supply chains in critical sectors such as pharmaceuticals and serve as a military buffer against China. Sullivan’s visit last week to New Delhi as a prelude to the Modi visit, underscores the importance this administration ascribes to India’s role in the world’s great power competition.

Finally, Hochstein’s appointment as deputy assistant to the president underscores Biden’s commitment to a balanced energy policy and safeguarding green supply chains. Hochstein is the only senior administration official with energy industry experience, and he is one of the few administration officials with open communication lines to oil CEOs. Moreover, Hochstein is one of the main proponents of the Saudi embrace and, along with Brett McGurk and Jake Sullivan, laid the groundwork for the Blinken Saudi visit. His main job is to advance the PGII—Biden’s counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative—and Hochstein is already getting under the skin of Chinese leadership, highlighted by the China Daily’s lambasting the PGII at the G7 earlier this month. He is the point person for Biden’s effort to protect green supply chains from China, and his move to the White House highlights Biden’s prioritization of this effort and comfort, even embrace, of moderate energy policy.

Companies looking to understand where the U.S. will go on permitting reform and LNG exports and related issues, must see Biden policy through the China lens and the personalities now at the core of Biden’s circle. Biden will continue to push a moderate energy policy in a way that protects the green transition. His administration is so relentless in aiming to win the clean-energy economy because it both takes climate change seriously and understands that the domestic manufacturing renaissance depends on the U.S. and allies controlling clean energy supply chains while having access to traditional energy.

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