The upcoming U.S.-China summit is a high-stakes event with the potential to shape the global order for decades to come. President Biden must approach the summit with a clear strategy and a commitment to prudent balancing.
Not containment, which is a policy of trying to prevent a rising power from expanding its influence. Not detente, which is a policy of reducing tensions between two hostile powers. And certainly not appeasement, which is a policy of giving in to the demands of a rising power in order to avoid conflict.
Instead, President Biden should approach his Chinese counterpart in the spirit of prudent balancing, a strategy that involves using a combination of deterrence, engagement, and cooperation to manage the relationship with a rising power.
Deterrence involves signaling to the rising power that the United States is willing and able to use force to prevent it from achieving its objectives. Engagement involves working with the rising power on areas of common interest, such as climate change and trade. Cooperation consists of working with the rising power to address common challenges, such as global pandemics and nuclear proliferation.
Containment, appeasement, and detente are all flawed policies. Containment is often counterproductive, as it can lead the rising power to become more aggressive. Detente is temporary, as it does not address the underlying causes of conflict between the two powers. Appeasement is dangerous, as it only encourages the rising power to make more demands. Prudent balancing is the best way to manage the relationship with a rising power like China. It allows the United States to deter Chinese aggression, engage with China on areas of common interest, and cooperate with China on common challenges.
President Biden can exercise prudent balancing at the upcoming summit by:
-Reiterating the United States' commitment to Taiwan's security. Taiwan is a vital U.S. ally and a key democracy in the Asia-Pacific region. The United States must make it clear to China that any attempt to invade Taiwan would be met with a swift and decisive U.S. response.
-Demanding that China end its unfair trade practices. China's forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft have cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars. President Biden should insist that China end these practices before the United States will agree to any new trade deals.
-Challenging China on its human rights record. China is one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. President Biden should raise the issue of human rights at the summit and make it clear that the United States will not tolerate China's oppression of its own people.
-Working with China on areas of common interest, such as climate change and trade. The United States and China have a shared interest in addressing climate change and promoting global trade. President Biden should explore ways to work with China on these issues.
-Cooperating with China on common challenges, such as global pandemics and nuclear proliferation. The United States and China have a shared interest in preventing the spread of global pandemics and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons. President Biden should explore ways to work with China on these challenges.
Prudent balancing is the best way for the United States to manage its relationship with China. It allows the United States to deter Chinese aggression, engage with China on areas of common interest, and cooperate with China on common challenges.
President Biden has the opportunity to exercise prudent balancing at the upcoming summit by taking a tough stance on China's unfair trade practices and human rights record, while also working with China on areas of common interest, such as climate change and trade, and cooperating with China on common challenges, such as global pandemics and nuclear proliferation.
By doing so, President Biden can help to ensure that the United States emerges from the summit stronger and more secure.
About the Author
Andrew Latham is a professor of international Relations and Political Theory at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He is also Non-Resident Fellow, Defense Priorities, Washington, DC; a Senior Fellow, Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, Ottawa, Canada; a 2023-25 Education Ambassador, Council on Foreign Relations; and an Opinion Contributor at The Hill, Washington, DC.