President Joe Biden cited the U.S. rivalry with Beijing's government while urging massive taxpayer investment in a newly defined American infrastructure.
"Do you think China is waiting around to invest in this digital infrastructure or in research and development?" he said last week. "I promise you they are not waiting. But they’re counting on American democracy to be too slow, too limited and too divided to keep pace …"
Striking a competitive tone on China seems to be a rare matter of bipartisan consensus. For example, Biden, despite reversing other Trump administration foreign-policy stances, has kept in place the previous guy's tariffs on about $350 billion worth of Chinese-made goods.
"China is simultaneously a rival, a trade partner, and an outsized player whose cooperation we'll also need to address certain global challenges," the new U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, said last month.
If that sounds too diplomatic to qualify as "tough," recall the many verbal bouquets former President Donald Trump giddily tossed to President Xi Jinping — most glaringly on Beijing's response to the coronavirus before the pandemic began to endanger Trump's reelection.
"I think China knows that — in the early stages of COVID — it didn’t do what it needed to do," Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday on NBC’s "Meet the Press."
"One result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise," Blinken said, adding: "We need to get to the bottom of this."
Difficult military issues between the nations are emerging into fuller view these days.
Blinken repeatedly has warned it would be a serious mistake for China to take any aggressive action against Taiwan. Blinken agreed even before his confirmation in January with Trump's "tougher approach with China."
From the start, Blinken also agreed with the last administration's designation of human rights violations in Xinjiang, a purportedly autonomous region, as "genocide" against Uyghurs. Last month, the U.S. imposed sanctions against Chinese officials allegedly involved in those abuses.
For years, the Pentagon has made grim public statements about meeting the threat posed by China's hypersonic missile development — perhaps the most chilling element of the current global rivalry.
Biden's proposed $715 billion Defense Department budget aims to advance U.S. hypersonic weapons and shore up the Navy with ballistic missile submarines and unmanned ships to address potential Russian or Chinese threats.
There is a uniquely 21st century twist to all this. The missile technology of the People's Liberation Army requires microchips designed by a Chinese firm, Phytium Technology — which uses American software and machinery at its Taiwan factory, The Washington Post reports.
So tension over intellectual property comes into play for more than commerce. This may not be a new Cold War, but nobody has been talking appeasement either. The issues are big, difficult and unlikely to be resolved any time soon.