"5Rs" Represent New U.S. Strategy Towards China

By Shih Chi-ping

China Times, January 30, 2021,


On January 18, a New York Times reporter revealed that President-Elect Joe Biden stated in an internal meeting that the new government in the United States would not sustain the foreign policy of the previous administration to provoke China on Taiwan. Biden said: "This is very important. This is the cornerstone of our diplomacy. Provoking China is not only meaningless but also extremely dangerous. If Taiwan is China's tail, stepping on it may inflict excruciating pain on China, but it will also plant an enormous time bomb for the United States and world peace." Biden's remarks provide a classic representative commentary on the realism of American diplomatic strategy.


Recently, many have speculated about American diplomacy under the new administration of President Joe Biden, especially its China policy. Observers have focused their analysis on key personnel appointments, such as secretary of state, national security adviser, secretary of defense, as well as related policy discourse and arguments. In this regard, the former bellicose faction is replaced by a rival, cooperative, and give-and-take faction, which of course conveyed some important messages.  But more importantly, why is there such a change? This question is related to the basic strategic thinking of President Biden and his administration, which I think, is informed by the following three factors:


1. A big setback: The U.S. strategy to contain China started with the Obama government’s “Pivot to the Asia-Pacific,” followed by the Trump administration’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy.” The two rounds of diplomatic initiatives over the last 12 years not only failed to contain China, but instead saw China catch up and get closer to the United States. Especially in the later period of the Trump administration, adamantly playing the Taiwan card resulted in a sharp decline in U.S.-China relations, which added to the war risk for America. Such a strategy is really not suitable for President Biden to follow.

2. The general situation: The overall situation is divided into the larger relations across the Pacific Ocean and smaller relations across the Taiwan Strait. Compared to the past, China is obviously growing, relatively outpacing the United States. In terms of the "intervention" and "anti-intervention" capabilities of U.S.-China geo-political wrestling in the Western Pacific, the two sides are almost equally matched. In terms of cross-strait relations, the situation is similar but the speed of change in the situation is even faster. For America to continue playing the Taiwan card it is not only more and more difficult but also riskier.


3. Major trends: In the next decade, China’s gross domestic product (GDP) is bound to surpass that of the United States, which is almost a forgone conclusion. In addition to GDP, all indicators of comprehensive national power, from industry, technology, space science, military, and even internal governance and institutional efficiency, showing rapid shrinking of gap between China and the United States, or even China overtaking America is also a trend with high probability, unless the United States really wants to have a confrontation with China, the outcome of which is difficult to tell.


After gathering all this background, it will be easier to understand the "5Rs" theory on U.S.-China relations introduced by Harvard University Professor Graham Allison, who has followed Mr. Biden for decades as a foreign policy strategist. The 5Rs are:

1. Return to normal: The U.S.-China relationship in the recent past was extremely abnormal and unsustainable;

2. Reversal of Trump’s harmful initiatives: Therefore, the new government will reverse the incorrect practices in the U.S.-China relationship;

3. Review the new circumstances and trends facing the United States from the perspective of American interests as the basis for new strategies and policies; 

4. Realism: Recognize the real changes in the global situation with China as a strong rival; and

5. Responsible: Wisely and responsibly recognize that the United States and China must co-exist. To pursue an alternative course may lead to mutual  destruction.


Realism may be vividly depicted in a Chinese aphorism: "A wise man is guided by the current course of events.”


The author is a senior commentator for Phoenix TV.


From: https://www.chinatimes.com/opinion/20210130003506-262105

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