Foreign and Defense Policy, Asia

Biden’s Fair Prescription, Failed Approach on China

Vice President Joseph Biden has written a very clear-headed analysis of our relationship with China. Though the idea that both Americans and many “in the region” entertain “visions of a cold-war-style rivalry” is a strawman, (this great power competition will make the Cold War seem simple—the Soviets were autarkic, China is not) Biden’s description of the duality of our economic partnership and military competition with China is a fair assessment of the current state of the relationship.

He is also correct that our strengths far outweigh China’s. He mentions the absence of liberty in China as one weakness. I would add a crushing amount of debt on Chinese bank sheets accumulated by the supposedly successful Chinese stimulus, the lack of currency convertibility, and the closed capital account. Chinese leaders seem ill-prepared to tackle any of these problems.

In contrast, the United States has many natural strengths. As Biden says, our open system creates the conditions for innovation and the attraction of the world’s top talent, and we possess an abundance of natural resources. To that I would add a much better demographic picture than China’s. And, compared to China’s, our entitlement problems seem manageable.

But our leaders do not seem well equipped to deal with our problems either. We are not making use of our natural resources. Our immigration policy is broken and not as good as it once was at attracting and assimilating talent. We are not tackling our entitlement problems.

And finally, though Biden pays lip service to a “greater presence” in Asia, we are in fact going in the opposite direction. The Obama defense cuts are imperiling our forward presence in the region and the new round of cuts Obama has proposed will do even more damage.

Though Biden has the prescription about right, we need leaders who will fix entitlements and who will ensure that America maintains its innovative edge, continues to lead on free trade, and resources its defense commitments. Unfortunately the Obama-Biden administration has failed on each count.

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