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Us-china Relations In The Biden-Era: A Timeline

Posted: 8th August 2022 10:35

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, offering a chance to change the course of US-China relations, which had hit a low point under the outgoing Trump administration.

The four years witnessed escalating trade tensions culminating in a trade war and sanctions on Chinese technology companies.

Since Biden’s election, political and business stakeholders have been paying close attention to the direction of the new White House administration’s policy towards China.

Will the Biden administration be accommodating of China or take advantage of the new status quo established under his predecessor?

China Briefing previously monitored and documented major developments during the US-China trade war in the Trump era.

Here, we present a fresh timeline that will track key developments affecting bilateral ties between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration.

US-China Relations In The Biden-Era

Day 562: August 5, 2022 – China cancels and suspends several US-China talks and areas of cooperation, sanctions Nancy Pelosi.

In a notice published on August 5, the Foreign Ministry announced it has canceled and suspended eight talks and areas of cooperation with the US: The China-U.S. Theater Commanders Talk, China-US Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT), China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings, China-US cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants, China-US cooperation on legal assistance in criminal matters, China-US cooperation against transnational crimes, China-US counternarcotics cooperation, and China-US talks on climate change. The announcement came shortly after a decision on the same day to sanction Nancy Pelosi and her immediate family members, although no details on the nature of the sanctions have been revealed. The measures have been implemented in direct response to Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which was “in disregard of China’s strong opposition and serious representations”, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Day 559: August 2, 2022 – Speaker Pelosi arrives in Taiwan prompting military drills.

Taiwanese media have confirmed that Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi arrived at Songshan Airport in Taipei just after 10:40 pm local time. She is scheduled to meet with Tsai Ing-wen on Wednesday, in what will be the highest-level US official to visit the island in 25 years. In a Washington Post op-ed that went live shortly after her plane landed, Pelosi wrote that “our congressional delegation’s visit should be seen as an unequivocal statement that America stands with Taiwan” but that it “in no way contradicts the long-standing one-China policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, the U.S.-China Joint Communiques and the Six Assurances.” Shi Yi, a spokesperson for the Eastern Theater Command, said in a statement that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will conduct a series of joint military operations in the waters and airspace surrounding Taiwan, including joint air and sea exercises in the sea and airspaces of the northern, southwestern, and southeastern Taiwan islands, firing long-range live ammunition in the Taiwan Strait, and organizing regular-guided fire tests in the island’s eastern waters. He also stated that the response was “a solemn deterrent against the recent major escalation of the negative actions by the United States on the Taiwan issue”.

Day 554: July 28, 2022 – Biden and Xi hold two-hour call.

On Thursday, President Biden and President Xi held a two-hour call, in which they discussed cooperation between the two countries and issues surrounding Taiwan and Ukraine, among other matters. The call was the first direct contact between the leaders since their last call on March 18. According to the Chinese readout of the meeting, Xi Jinping told Biden that “China and the US should maintain communication on major issues such as macroeconomic policy coordination, maintaining the stability of global industrial and supply chains, and safeguarding global energy and food security.” The White House readout wrote that “The call was a part of the Biden Administration’s efforts to maintain and deepen lines of communication between the United States and the PRC and responsibly manage our differences and work together where our interests align.” On Taiwan, President Xi said that the US should not “play with fire” and that the US should abide by the One China Policy and implement the three Sino-US joint communiques. The White House readout, meanwhile, stated that “President Biden underscored that the United States policy has not changed and that the United States strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” The call comes ahead of a planned visit by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan next month, which has triggered a strong response from China. It is as yet uncertain whether the visit will go ahead.

Day 546: July 20, 2022 – Biden says he will hold meeting with Xi by the end of July. 

President Biden told reporters on Wednesday, July 20 that he intends to meet with President Xi “within the next 10 days”, as China-US relations grow increasingly tense. If it goes ahead as planned, the meeting will be the first the two have held in four months. On the same day, Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, criticized the US’ increasingly close ties with Taiwan, stating that “The United States is […] blurring out the “One China’ policy”. Officials from the Biden administration have repeatedly said that the US’ stance on the One China policy has not changed. Speaking at a routine press briefing a day earlier, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian also criticized a planned trip by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan next month, saying that “We firmly oppose any form of official interaction between the US and the Taiwan region” and that “China will take strong and resolute measures to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity” should the visit go ahead and the US continue “creating factors that could lead to tensions in the Taiwan Strait”.

Day 517: June 21, 2022 – US ban on Xinjiang imports takes effect.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), which was passed in December 2021, takes effect today. The UFLPA bans the import of products made in part or wholly in Xinjiang unless the US Customs and Border Protection agency can certify that the products are not made with forced labor.

The high-priority sectors for enforcement of the UFLPA are cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon. This means that fashion and textiles will be one of the hardest-hit sectors.

When asked about the issue of forced labor in Xinjiang at a press briefing on June 15, 2022, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “Such acts of presumption of guilt runs counter to the basic legal principle of presumption of innocence” and that “the allegation of “forced labor” is nothing but a pretext used by the US side in an effort to seek political manipulation for the sheer purpose of destabilizing Xinjiang and containing China’s development”.

Day 509: June 13, 2022 – US security advisor and top Chinese diplomat meet in Luxembourg.

US Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi met in Luxembourg, where they had a “candid, in-depth and constructive communication and exchanges on China-U.S. relations and other issues of common concern”, according to a readout published on the Foreign Ministry of the PRC (FMPRC) website. It was the second in-person meeting and the third dialogue that the two have held in 2022. According to the FMPRC readout, the two reiterated familiar talking points, with Yang pointing out that US President Joe Biden had assured China that the US does not support Taiwan independence and is not seeking to start a Cold War with China. He also stated that “China firmly opposes the definition of China-U.S. relations by competition”, in reference to a speech by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 26, in which he asserted that the two countries were in political competition with one another to secure the future. The readout of the meeting on the White House website was brief, but stated that “Mr. Sullivan underscored the importance of maintaining open lines of communication to manage competition between our two countries.”

Day 490: May 25, 2022 – Chinese and US climate envoys vow to cooperate on climate issues.

On Tuesday, May 24, 2022, Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua met with US counterpart John Kerry at the 2022 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to discuss cooperation on tackling climate change. The two envoys found common ground on the issue, with both envoys calling for more urgent action. John Kerry stated that “Emissions went up in 2021 by 6%, while coal usage expanded by 9%. This is unacceptable” while Xie Zhenhua called for more to be done to meet pledges, stating that “Action, now, is critical”  and “We have to turn our pledges into concrete actions”. John Kerry also stated that the two countries were close to agreeing on the structure of a group from both countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. John Kerry also suggested doing more to assist each other in meeting climate pledges, saying that “Maybe we can help with technology […] to help China move faster. Maybe China could help us better understand some things we could do better.”

Day 489: May 24, 2022 – US President Biden indicates a willingness to defend Taiwan militarily.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, May 23, US President Joe Biden stated that he would be willing to defend Taiwan militarily when asked by media, but added that “My expectation is it will not happen, it will not be attempted”. In the response to the remarks, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin stated in a press briefing that “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to the remarks by the US side” and “We urge the US side to abide by the one-China principle and the stipulations in the three China-US joint communiqués”. On Tuesday, May 24, President Biden then stated at the “Quad Leaders’ Summit” between leaders from Japan, India, and Australia that his statement did not amount to a change in the US’ stance or policy with regard to Taiwan.

Day 483: May 18, 2022 – US security advisor and top Chinese diplomat hold phone call in follow-up to Rome meeting.

On Wednesday, May 18, US Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi held a phone conversation, in which Yang stated that “the United States has taken a series of wrong words and deeds that interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests”, according to Chinese state media. He also stated that the US “cooperate with China, properly manage differences between the two sides, and do more constructive things to bring bilateral relations back to the right track of sound and steady development”. The readout of the conversation posted on the White House website was very brief, stating that the conversation was a follow-up to their March 14 meeting in Rome, that it “focused on regional security issues and nonproliferation”, and that the two “also discussed Russia’s war against Ukraine and specific issues in U.S.-China relations”.

Day 476: May 11, 2022 – US removes key language on its stance on Taiwan. 

Updates to the State Department’s fact sheet on Taiwan, released on May 5, 2022, committed key language on the US’ official stance on Taiwan, including that the US “[acknowledges] the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China” and that it “does not support Taiwan independence”. However, it still includes the sentence “The United States has a longstanding one China policy, which is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances.” When inquired by the media at a regular press briefing on May 10, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the amended document “a trick to obscure and hollow out the one-China principle” and that ” the attempt to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait will hurt the US itself”. Following this, at a press briefing on May 11, the US Department of State Spokesperson stated that “our policy towards Taiwan has not changed” and “we do not support Taiwan independence”.

Day 476: May 11, 2022 – Joe Biden says US may lift tariffs on Chinese goods to combat inflation.

In a speech on Tuesday, May 10, President Joe Biden stated that he would consider removing tariffs on Chinese goods in an effort to reduce the price of goods in the US. The statement comes a week after the US Trade Representative initiated a statutory procedure to review US tariffs on Chinese goods in the lead-up to the four-year anniversary of the tariffs being implemented. In a routine press briefing on Wednesday 11 May, Foreign Minister Zhao Lijian urged the US to remove the tariffs, stating that “I think it’s time for the US administration to reconsider and to cancel it as early as possible”. He also said that the tariffs had been detrimental to the US jobs and the economy.

Day 468: May 3, 2022 – USTR signals it may lift trade tariffs on some Chinese goods.

According to a notice published on the website of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) on May 3, the US may lift tariffs on some Chinese goods on the four-year anniversary of the tariffs being instated. The notice puts in motion a standard legal requirement for the USTR to review tariff actions four years after they were instated. The four-year anniversary of two tariff actions, which took effect on July 6, 2018 and August 23, 2018 under Trump, will occur this summer. The notice called on representatives of domestic industries that benefit from trade tariffs on Chinese goods to submit requests for the continuation of the tariffs during two dockets open from May 7 to July 5 and July 6 to August 22, respectively. If a request is submitted to the USTR, it will commence a review of the tariff to assess whether it will be extended. If no request is submitted for a given tariff, then it will presumably be lifted, but not official statement has been made on the timeline or certainty of this happening.

Day 456: April 21, 2022 – U.S. Pentagon chief speaks to Chinese defense minister for the first time under Biden.

On Wednesday, April 20, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III spoke to Chinese Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe for the first time under the Biden Administration. The readouts of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and China’s State Council both provided scant details of the discussion. According to the DoD, the call was a “follow-up to the recent call between President Biden and Xi Jinping” and stated simply that the two “discussed U.S.-PRC defense relations, regional security issues, and Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”. Meanwhile, the State Council’s readout wrote that “China hopes to establish sound and stable major-country relations with the United States” but that “The United States should not underestimate China’s determination and capability”. With regards to Taiwan, it said that “the Chinese military will resolutely safeguard national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity”. The U.S. also reiterated its adherence to the One China policy. Ukraine was only briefly mentioned, with the readout stating that the two sides “exchanged views” on the issue.

Day 429: March 25, 2022 – SEC adds Weibo to list of Chinese companies for possible delisting from US stock exchanges

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has added the social media company Sina Weibo to a list of companies for possible delisting under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (HFCAA). The addition follows the publication on March 10 of a provisional list of five Chinese companies for possible delisting from US stock exchanges (see Day 414 – 420 update).

Day 427: March 23, 2022 – USTR reinstates tariff exemptions on some Chinese goods

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it would reinstate tariff exemptions on 352 Chinese products. The tariff exclusions had on these products had expired in 2019 and 2020, and were reinstated after consultation with US agencies and the public. A total of 549 products were initially up for consideration for reinstatement of tariff exemptions, but only products that met certain criteria were ultimately chosen for the exclusions.

According to the notice on the exclusions posted on the USTR website, the public was invited to comment on whether the products or similar products can be sourced from other countries, whether there have been any changes to the product supply chain or industry development, whether importers had made any effort to source the product from elsewhere, and whether the product could be produced in the US.

The reinstatement of the tariff exemptions, therefore, suggests that the products can currently not be sourced or produced from countries other than China. The list covers a wide range of products, including industrial chemicals and machinery, auto parts, textiles, consumer electronics, and foodstuffs.

Day 422: March 18, 2022 – Xi and Biden hold first conference call since Russia-Ukraine war outbreak

President Xi and President Biden spoke on a conference call on Friday evening (March 18), the first direct communication between the two leaders since their virtual summit in November 2021 and the first talk since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war.

There are relatively few concrete details on what was discussed in the meeting, and the information provided by the US and Chinese sides is markedly different in tone and focus. However, both sides agreed the meeting revolved in large around the crisis in Ukraine, while also touching on the topic of Taiwan.

According to the readout on the White House website, in the meeting, President Biden “described the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia as it conducts brutal attacks against Ukrainian cities and civilians”. The readout did not provide details on what the consequences would be, however, in a routine press meeting held after the meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that “sanctions are certainly one tool in the toolbox”.

The readout on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China (FMPRC) website, on the other hand, stated that “China stands for peace and opposes war” and that “China has put forward a six-point initiative on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, and is ready to provide further humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and other affected countries.”

The readout did not mention Biden’s threat of “consequences”, but wrote that “sweeping and indiscriminate sanctions would only make the people suffer. If further escalated, they could trigger serious crises in global economy and trade, finance, energy, food, and industrial and supply chains […]”

On Taiwan, the White House readout stated that “The President reiterated that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed, and emphasized that the United States continues to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo”. Meanwhile, the FMPRC wrote that “Biden reiterated that the US does not seek a new Cold War with China; it does not aim to change China’s system; the revitalization of its alliances is not targeted at China; the US does not support “Taiwan independence”; and it has no intention to seek a conflict with China”.

Both readouts stated that the presidents had each tasked their teams to “follow up” on the conversation, indicating more talks ahead.

Day 414 – 420: March 10 to 16, 2022 – SEC releases list of five Chinese companies for possible delisting from US stock markets

On March, 10, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the securities regulator, published a provisional list of issuers identified under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (HFCAA).

Passed in December 2020, the HFCAA enables the SEC to prohibit the trading of the securities of foreign companies listed on US stock exchanges if the company is found to be unable to submit to an audit by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PBAOC) due to legislation in their country of origin. The HFCAA also requires companies to declare whether they are owned by a foreign government.
Chinese law prohibits companies from disclosing audits to the PBAOC, leaving US-listed Chinese companies stuck in the crossfire of clashing US and Chinese legislation.
The five companies on the list are:
  • BeiGene
  • Yum China
  • Zai Lab
  • ACM Research

Under the HFCAA, companies will be delisted if they fail to submit an audit for three years in a row, meaning that the above-listed companies will not be delisted until 2024.

In response to the announcement, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) stated, “We respect foreign regulators strengthening the supervising accounting firms […] but firmly oppose some powers’ use of the politicization of securities supervision.”

However, Chinese regulators have since indicated they will work with US regulators to resolve the issues surrounding the audit of US-listed Chinese companies. In a meeting of the Financial Stability and Development Committee (FSDC) on March 16, Vice Premier Liu He said that the US and Chinese regulatory agencies have maintained “good communication” and are working on forming a specific cooperation plan.

Day 405: March 1, 2022 – The United States Trade Representative (USTR) doubles down on competition with China in annual report

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has said that it will realign its trade policies toward China in its 2022 Trade Policy Agenda and 2021 Annual Report, which details the work the organization will do to implement the Biden Administration’s trade policies.

Among a raft of other trade policy goals, the report took aim at China, saying that “We must recognize that China, as a large, non-market economy, has uniquely distorted global trade through its economic policies and practices, causing harm to U.S. production, investment, and even consumption” and that there is “urgent need for reform”.

The report did not provide specific details on policy measures for trade with China but stated that the U.S. would renew engagement with partners and allies “to address shared challenges” with regard to China. The report strongly suggests the U.S. will continue to implement policies to increase its competitiveness with China and use its influence on the international stage to urge other countries to do the same.

At the same time, there are indications that more trade tariffs may not be the preferred policy tool, with the report saying that “We are also mindful that rash response measures can create vulnerabilities of their own. The Biden Administration’s approach to China is and will continue to be deliberative, with a focus on the long term.”

Day 398: February 22, 2022 – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi clarifies China’s position on the Ukraine-Russia crisis at Munich Security Conference

On Saturday, February 20, 2022, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke via videolink at the 58th Munich Security Conference. Wang Yi clarified that China supports the national sovereignty of all countries, including Ukraine.

As reported by the SCMP, Wang Yi said that “All countries’ sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity must be safeguarded because these are the basic principles in international relations established through the United Nations Constitution.” However, Wang Yi also criticized Nato, stating that “If Nato keeps expanding eastward, is it conducive to maintaining peace and stability in Europe?”

Wang has previously called for diplomacy, stating that “All parties should work for the comprehensive resolution of the Ukraine crisis […] through dialogue and negotiation.”

China has accused the US and other Western nations of escalating the situation in its response to the Ukraine-Russia crisis. At a press conference on February 16, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that “the US has been playing up the threat of war and creating an air of tension” and that “persistent hyping and dissemination of disinformation by some in the US and the West that has added more turbulence and uncertainty to the world […]”

Key takeaway: Despite warming China-Russian relations in recent years, it is clear that China will not support Russia in a military invasion of Ukraine, given that it crosses China’s red line on national sovereignty and risks fraying relations with the EU.

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