Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees are expected to face a barrage of questions related to China during their confirmation hearings in the Senate. While being tough on Beijing has become a priority on both sides of the aisle, Republicans are prepared to lead the charge.
In comments to Politico, China hawk Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl) made his intentions clear. “Every US official has a role to play, because the national security threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party to the United States cut across all aspects of our society, our economy and our government,” he said. “Biden’s nominations will need to demonstrate a strong understanding of how their departments can respond to these challenges.”
When Biden began filling out his cabinet in November, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AK), another China hawk, accused the nominees of being soft on Beijing. On Twitter, Cotton said Biden was “surrounding himself with panda huggers who will only reinforce his instincts to go soft on China.”
Republican China hawks in the House have voiced their displeasure with Biden’s choice for secretary of defense, Retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) said he would have preferred if Biden went with Michele Flournoy, who was rumored to be the frontrunner for the position.
Flournoy is an ultra-China hawk. In June, she penned an article for Foreign Affairs that said the US should have the ability to sink all Chinese vessels in the South China Sea “within 72 hours” to counter Beijing in the region.
Rep. Banks told National Review that Flournoy was “a far better pick” than Austin because “she’s been focused” on issues related to China. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WS) agreed with Banks and said Flournoy was “the best” choice if Biden was serious about prioritizing China. The main issue the hawks have with Austin is his lack of experience in dealing with Beijing.
While the Republicans like to label Biden and other Democrats as being soft on China, that does not appear to be the case. Biden, and his nominees, have made it clear that being tough on Beijing will be a priority for the new administration. And there is no indication that the increased US activity in the Indo-Pacific that was started by President Obama and accelerated by President Trump will slow down.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick for national security advisor, co-authored a column for Foreign Policy earlier this year titled “China Has Two Paths To Global Domination” that hyped the threat of a rising Beijing. The nominee for secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, is expected to build stronger alliances to counter China, something Biden is a proponent of and the Trump administration has laid the groundwork for.
Biden’s policy does not look like it will be much different from the current administration’s when it comes to trade. In a recent interview, Biden said he will not “immediately” lift tariffs on Chinese goods or scrap President Trump’s Phase One trade deal. In comments on Monday, Biden called for stronger trade coalitions to counter China.
“As we compete with China and hold China’s government accountable for its abuses on trade, technology, human rights and other fronts, our position will be much stronger when we build coalitions of like-minded partners and allies,” he said.