Jake Sullivan has been tapped to fill the role, after previously advising Biden when he served as vice president in the Obama administration. Sullivan also worked for Hillary Clinton when she served as Secretary of State.
Sullivan could bring in a fresh perspective to relations with China when compared with the Trump administration if his past comments are an indication.
During a lecture he delivered on behalf of the Lowy Institute in 2017, Sullivan said leading foreign policy expert Owen Harries was “right” to warn against “containment” as a self-defeating policy, much like acquiescence.
“We need to strike a middle course – one that encourages China’s rise in a manner consistent with an open, fair, rules-based, regional order,” Sullivan said. “This will require care and prudence and strategic foresight, and maybe even more basically it will require sustained attention. It may not have escaped your notice that these are not in ample supply in Washington right now.”
During the same lecture, Sullivan said China policy needs to be about more than just bilateral ties, "it needs to be about our ties to the region that create an environment more conducive to a peaceful and positive sum Chinese rise," he said.
Sullivan reasoned that a thriving China, specifically from an economic standpoint, was good for the global economy, though it depends on the “parameters of the system within which China is rising.”
That sentiment resonates with current policy towards China, where the U.S. has worked to iron out trade agreements that level the playing field for domestic companies, concerning items like intellectual property protections and removing trade barriers.
The Trump administration engaged China directly in what amounted to a months-long trade war as it sought to coax Beijing into opening its economy.
A partial agreement was reached between the world’s two largest economies earlier this year.
While Biden’s approach may differ from Trump’s hardline tactics, his goals concerning economic relations with Beijing are likely similar.
Biden said the U.S. “does need to get tough on China,” in an essay in Foreign Affairs, where he advocated for using alliances as leverage to “shape the rules of the road” so that they “reflect democratic interests and values.”