During the lead-up to the 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden dismissed claims that China would “eat our lunch.” His tune seemed to change after taking office. In February, President Biden warned a bipartisan group of U.S. senators about the very real threat Beijing poses to the U.S. Fast forward to June, how have his actions matched his rhetoric? There’s room for a lot of improvement. But it could be worse.
On the plus side, the White House expanded former President Trump’s ban on investing in companies connected to the Chinese military. Widening the scope of the blacklist will help ensure U.S. dollars aren’t being used to fund Chinese military or clandestine activities. Considering a new report that the federal government is likely underestimating the number of companies beholden to the CCP, expanding the prohibition is warranted.
The current administration has also left Mr. Trump’s trade sanctions in place. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo praised the tariffs as “effective” while U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai doesn’t foresee them being lifted anytime soon. Good. These trade sanctions are strong economic tools that will help draw Beijing to the negotiating table. Unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft on the part of the Chinese are wrongs that need to be righted.
Then there’s our domestic infrastructure. Considering the recent uptick in major cyberattacks on U.S. industries, it should be a top priority. Although Mr. Biden initially suspended a Trump-era executive order that helped shield the U.S. power grid from foreign intrusion, the White House eventually reversed course. The policy, borrowed from Mr. Trump, places restrictions on electrical equipment made in adversarial countries, including China. It’s unclear how much damage could have been inflicted while Biden was correcting his error. Better late than never I guess.
Unfortunately, Mr. Biden’s moves to bolster U.S. defenses against Beijing have been largely negated by others that undermine our security.
Earlier this month, Mr. Biden scrapped a ban that the Trump administration tried to put in place on the widely popular TikTok app — which boasts more than 70 million users in the U.S. — along with other platforms. Chinese-owned apps could be used as a tool to spy on Americans and pass along data to the CCP. The new TikTok terms of service say the company can collect biometric data from users, including voice and facial appearance.
You don’t have to suffer from paranoia to start wondering why. Mr. Trump’s standard has been replaced by a weaker policy that requires the Commerce Department to develop criteria to assess the national security risks associated with apps “owned, controlled or managed” by companies connected to adversarial militaries.
Similarly, the Biden administration has also nixed a rule that required schools to disclose their ties to Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes. The university programs are leveraged to push CCP propaganda at American students. Mr. Biden himself has been caught-up in the Chinese education influence campaign. In 2018, the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was established at the University of Pennsylvania. During a three-year period around that time, the school collected $61 million worth of gifts and contracts from China. What was China buying? And why would Mr. Biden nix transparency of those “gifts”?
Just as troublesome is the lack of fresh thinking in top administration staffing. Problematic hires include National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who remarked in 2017 that the U.S. should “welcome” and “encourage” the rise of China. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl and Secretary of State Tony Blinken have financial ties to China from past employment.
President Biden often talks tough on China, but his actions suggest a less robust position. Hopefully his latest moves to expand the targeting of CCP-linked companies will set the tone for a stronger stand in the near term.
• Richard Berman is president of Berman and Co. in Washington, D.C.
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