It is often said that distorting the natural course of a river can lead to incalculable damage. In a similar manner, the policies of Donald Trump concerning China were a natural course of foreign policy manoeuvring that the USA had to undertake. That is why even though Biden has tried his level best to reverse all the policies of his predecessor, he has decided not to reverse Trump’s China policy. The White House expects to keep tariffs on China left by the Trump administration in place, though it will evaluate what is appropriate going forward, according to what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in an interview.
These comments by the Treasury Secretary showed her frustration over being forced to abide by the policies set by Trump. By keeping in place, the former President’s tariffs on China, the Biden administration is being forced to accept that the policies undertaken by the previous regime were so perfect that they cannot afford to strike them down. Any effort by the Biden administration to reverse these tariffs and ease the containment of China economically would turn out to be a bad omen for the United States. This is a landmine that has been set by Donald Trump and Biden has decided that the best course of action is not to step on it and play by the rules that his predecessor has set concerning China.
Joe Biden has already been forced to toe the line of his Asian allies in the case of the Quad. Japan, India and Australia have made sure that Biden follows through with the Indo-Pacific concept which was concretised under the Trump administration. He has lost allies in the Middle East because of his stubbornness concerning the Iran Nuclear Deal and his policy of extreme appeasement of Tehran. The new US President has also been cornered by France and Germany recently.
Biden chose the first public encounter with America’s European allies to characterise the new struggle between the West and autocratic powers, announcing that “America is back” and not all were convinced. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel used the platform to shift the focus sharply away from the US. Biden’s message to press the ‘comeback’ of the US leadership was not given much equity by the two European powers.
If Joe Biden conspires with China and does away with the tariffs on the imports from China, it will lead to the USA losing the trust of its Asian allies, given many of these countries have profited from these bans – the best example being Vietnam. On the other hand countries like India and Australia have taken on the Chinese belligerence first hand and have shed blood both literally and figuratively to contain its shenanigans. Thus, an act of retracting the tariffs on China will mean that Washington has left its allies in the larger Indo-Pacific too.
At a time when the USA has already lost a lot of geopolitical capital, this would be the end game scenario for the USA as it will stand alone in the world with no allies to rely on. Although Biden was tempted to remove the tariffs, within a month he has come to terms with the reality and has recognised that he just cannot do away with the tariffs. What Trump had initiated was the right thing to do and if Biden reverses it, it would be like stepping on a landmine. In the current scenario, it would be too expensive politically.