ONE THING STANDS out to this Bystander about the flurry of executive orders issued by the new US president Joe Biden to undo those of his predecessor, Donald Trump: none of them relate to China.
The one possible China-related action is a reported extension to May 27 of a deadline in Trump’s executive order that orders US institutional and retail investors to wind down their trading of the securities of 44 Chinese firms on a US Department of Defense blacklist. However, Trump’s deadline for full divestment remains unchanged, November 11.
That is in line with Biden’s clear intention not to pull back from Trump’s China policy any time soon, or at least not to declare his hand prematurely.
Meanwhile, three of China’s biggest telcos, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom HK, all on the US defence department’s blacklist, are in limbo as they appeal the New York Stock Exchange’s delisting of their shares. The Biden administration has been silent on that matter, too.
It has also been quiet on the other US blacklists, the Entity List, maintained by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) within the US Department of Commerce and the Commerce department’s military end-user list. Trump added many Chinese companies, most notably Huawei, to the former to cut the supply chains of Chinese technology companies through export controls, and to the latter to prevent dual-use US technology reaching the People’s Liberation Army.
In her confirmation hearings, Biden’s Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, indicated a continuation of a tough stance towards Beijing and wishing to bring its allies alongside it in common cause.
That already exists with regard to the presence of Chinese-made kit in 5G networks, but other trade issues of concern that Yellen highlighted, and where there could be international cooperation, include dumping, trade barriers and illegal subsidies to (state-owned) corporations.
Those should all be part of the Phase Two negotiations between Washington and Beijing of Trump’s US-China trade deal, should the Biden administration so choose to pick up the talks. Though they were meant to start immediately on the signing of Phase One of the deal a year ago, they have not stalled as a result of the combination of the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the general deterioration of bilateral relations in the final year of the Trump presidency.
February 14 marks the first anniversary of Phase One of the deal, That date could provide the opportunity for the new administration to lay out its stance on China. Still, this Bystander expects it will prefer to continue to hold its cards close to its chest, not least until it has reviewed all its trade relationships in the Indo-Pacific and come up with a cohesive strategic strategy for the region.