As a new U.S. president takes office, he faces a determined Chinese leadership that could be further emboldened by America’s troubles at home.
The disarray in America, from the rampant COVID-19 pandemic to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, gives China’s ruling Communist Party a boost as it pursues its long-running quest for national “rejuvenation” — a bid to return the country to what it sees as its rightful place as a major nation.
For Joe Biden, sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president, that could make one of his major foreign policy challenges even more difficult as he tries to manage an increasingly contentious relationship between the world’s rising power and its established one.
The stakes are high for both countries and the rest of the world. A misstep could spark an accidental conflict in the Western Pacific, where China’s growing naval presence is bumping up against America’s. The trade war under President Donald Trump hurt workers and farmers in both countries, though some in Vietnam and elsewhere benefited as companies moved production outside China. On global issues such as climate, it is difficult to make progress if the world’s two largest economies aren’t talking.
The Chinese government expressed hope Thursday that Biden would return to dialogue and cooperation after the divisiveness under Trump.
“It is normal for China and the United States to have some differences,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “Countries with different social systems, cultural backgrounds and ideologies should and can coexist ... and work together to achieve peace and stability and development in the world.”
But Kurt Tong, a former U.S. diplomat in Asia, sees a stalemate in the coming few years in which China keeps doing what it has been doing and the U.S. is not happy about it.
“I think it’s going to be a tough patch, it’s just going to be more disagreements than agreements and not a lot of breakthroughs,” said Tong, now a partner with The Asia Group consultancy in Washington, D.C.
A more confident China may push back harder on issues such as technology, territory and human rights. Analysts draw parallels to the 2008 global financial crisis, from which China emerged relatively unscathed. The country’s foreign policy has grown increasingly assertive since then, from staking out territory in disputed waters in the South China Sea to its more recent use of Twitter to hit back at critics. China’s relative success in controlling the pandemic could fuel that trend.
The U.S. has also shifted, with wide support among both Republicans and Democrats for treating China as a competitor, and embracing the need for a tougher approach to China, if not always agreeing with how Trump carried it out. Biden needs to be wary of opening himself up to attacks that he is soft on China if he rolls back import tariffs and other steps taken by his predecessor.
His pressing need to prioritize domestic challenges could give China breathing room to push forward its agenda, whether it be technological advancement or territorial issues from Taiwan to its border with India.
Biden has pointed to potential areas of cooperation, from climate change to curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, but even in those areas, the two countries don’t always agree.
The pandemic, first viewed as a potential threat to President Xi Jinping’s leadership as it spiraled out of control in the city of Wuhan in early 2020, has been transformed into a story of hardship followed by triumph.
The Communist Party has sought to use the pandemic to justify its continued control of the one-party, authoritarian state it has led for more than 70 years, while rounding up citizen-journalists and others to quash any criticism of its handling of the outbreak.
That effort has been aided by the failure of many other nations to stop the spread of COVID-19. Biden takes over a country where deaths continue to mount and virus-related restrictions keep it in recession. China is battling small outbreaks, but life has largely returned to normal and economic growth is accelerating.
“It would have been more difficult for them to push that narrative around the world if the United States had not done such a poor job,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C. “That’s a theme that runs through many issues, that China’s just able to point to the United States and democracy in general as not delivering good governance.”
It’s impossible to gauge support for the Communist Party in a country where many would be unwilling to criticize it publicly, for fear of repercussions. But Niu Jun, an international relations professor at Peking University, said that objectively, public trust should rise given China’s faster recovery from the outbreak.
“To ordinary people, the logic is very simple,” he said, predicting the pandemic would spark public thinking and discussion about which system of governance is more effective.
“The party’s policies are good, our policies are not like the ones in foreign countries, ours are good,” said Liu Shixiu, strolling with her daughter in Wuhan, the city that bore the brunt of the pandemic in China. “We listen to the party.”
It is unclear whether the Communist Party foresees exporting its way of governance as an alternative to the democratic model. For now, Chinese officials note that countries choose different systems and stress the need for others to respect those differences.
“As China becomes more and more confident, maybe they’ll try to shape the internal operations or ways of thinking of other countries,” Tong said. “But to me, it feels more like they don’t want anyone to be able to say that China is bad and get away with it.”
The leadership wants China to be seen and treated as an equal and has shown a willingness to use its growing economic and military might to try to get its way.
As the U.S. enters “what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks — including a requirement that they be worn for travel.
Biden also will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.
“We need to ask average Americans to do their part,” said Jeff Zients, the White House official directing the national response. “Defeating the virus requires a coordinated nationwide effort.
But Biden officials say they’re hampered by lack of cooperation from the Trump administration during the transition. They say they don’t have a complete understanding of their predecessors’ actions on vaccine distribution.
They’re also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response. And they face a litany of complaints from states that say they are not getting enough vaccine even as they are being asked to vaccinate more categories of people.
Biden acknowledged the urgency of the mission in his inaugural address. “We are entering what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” he said before asking Americans to join him in a moment of silence in memory of the more than 400,000 people in the U.S. who have died from COVID-19.
Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced blistering criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues. Fauci said early Thursday that the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries and will resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.
The U.S. mask order for travel being implemented by Biden will apply to airports and planes, ships, intercity buses, trains and public transportation. Travelers from abroad must furnish a negative COVID-19 test before departing for the U.S. and quarantine upon arrival. Biden has already mandated masks on federal property.
Although airlines, Amtrak and other transport providers now require masks, Biden’s order makes it a federal mandate, leaving little wiggle room for passengers tempted to argue about their rights. It marks a sharp break with the culture of President Donald Trump’s administration, under which masks were optional, and Trump made a point of going maskless and hosting big gatherings of like-minded supporters. Science has shown that masks, properly worn, cut down on coronavirus transmission.
Biden also is seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, with the goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. Zients called Biden’s goal “ambitious and achievable.”
The Democratic president has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin setting up vaccination centers, aiming to have 100 up and running in a month. He’s ordering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month. And he’s mobilizing the Public Health Service to deploy to assist localities in vaccinations.
Some independent experts say the administration should be setting a higher bar for itself than 100 million shots. During flu season, the U.S. is able to vaccinate about 3 million people a day, said Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. “Given the number of people dying from COVID, we could and should do more — like what we’re able to do on seasonal flu,” he said.
Zients said Biden will not follow through on a Trump administration plan to penalize states lagging in vaccination by shifting some of their allocation to more efficient states. “We are not looking to pit one state against another,” he said.
Biden has set a goal of having most K-8 schools reopen in his first 100 days, and he’s ordering the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide clear guidance for reopening schools safely.
Getting schools and child care going will help to ease the drag on the U.S. economy, making it easier for parents to return to their jobs and restaurants to find lunch-time customers.
But administration officials stressed that reopening schools safely depends on increased testing.
To ramp up supplies, Biden is giving government agencies a green light to use a Cold War-era law called the Defense Production Act to direct manufacturing.
“We do not have nearly enough testing capacity in this country,” Zients said. “We need the money in order to really ramp up testing, which is so important to reopen schools and businesses.”
This means that any efforts to reopen the economy will hinge on how quickly lawmakers act on the $1.9 trillion package proposed by Biden, which includes separate planks such as $1,400 in direct payments to people, a $15 minimum wage and aid to state and local governments that some Republican lawmakers see as unnecessary for addressing the medical emergency. The Biden plan estimates that a national vaccination strategy with expanded testing requires $160 billion, and he wants another $170 billion to aid the reopening of schools and universities.
As part of his COVID-19 strategy, Biden will order the establishment of a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure that minority and underserved communities are not left out of the government’s response. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans have borne a heavy burden of death and disease from the virus. Surveys have shown vaccine hesitancy is high among African Americans, a problem the administration plans to address through an education campaign.
But Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the top White House health adviser on minority communities, said she’s not convinced that race should be a factor in vaccination. Disparities seem to have more to do with risky jobs and other life circumstances.
“It’s not inherent to race,” she said. “It’s from the exposures.”
There’s also support for states in the package. Biden is ordering FEMA to reimburse states for the full cost of using their National Guards to set up vaccination centers. That includes the use of supplies and protective gear as well as personnel. States would also be able to tap FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to help them get schools back open.
Can COVID-19 vaccines be mixed and matched?
Health officials say both doses should be of the same vaccine.
The COVID-19 vaccines rolling out in the United States, the United Kingdom and other parts of the world so far require two shots given a few weeks apart.
In the U.S. where Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are being distributed, health officials say the vaccines are not interchangeable. In England where shots by Pfizer and AstraZeneca are available, officials also say the doses should be consistent.
But in the rare event that the same kind isn’t available or if it’s not known what was given for the first shot, English officials say it’s OK to give whichever vaccine is available for the second shot. Since the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines work in a similar way, they say a mismatched dose is better than partial protection.
But without any studies, vaccine doses should not be mixed, said Naor Bar-Zeev, a vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins University.
If people do happen to get a different vaccine for their second shot by accident, Bar-Zeev said it is likely “to work fine and likely to be well tolerated,” but evidence is needed to be sure.
A day after being sworn in, President Joe Biden is rolling out a national strategy to fight COVID-19, reopen the nation’s schools and restart the U.S. economy. His plan calls for an expansion of coronavirus testing, accelerated vaccine distribution and new action to prepare for future biological threats. The plan is tied to a $1.9 trillion plan that Biden unveiled last week to combat the pandemic.
The administration’s new strategy is based around seven major goals:
— Establishes a federal COVID-19 response team to coordinate efforts across agencies and restores a White House team on global health risks that was established during the Obama administration.
— Calls for regular public briefings on COVID-19 to be led by scientific experts.
— The federal government will track data on virus cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions and will make it available to the public. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will start a public dashboard tracking cases at the county level.
— Increases the production and purchasing of vaccines, including through the Defense Production Act — it allows the president to direct the manufacturing of critical goods during wartime — and ensures availability of glass vials, syringes and other supplies.
— Accelerates vaccinations by ending a policy to hold back large amounts of vaccines while also giving states clearer projections on vaccine availability to help them plan their rollouts.
— Partners with states to create more vaccine centers at locations including stadiums, convention centers and pharmacies.
— Directs federal health agencies to consider raising pay for those who administer vaccines.
— The federal government will identify communities that have been hit hardest by the pandemic and make sure vaccine doses reach them at no out-of-pocket cost to residents.
— Launches a national campaign to educate Americans about vaccines and encourage them to get shots.
— In addition to Biden’s order asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days, he will issue a separate order to federal agencies to require masks on airplanes, trains and other public transportation.
— A new national testing strategy will expand testing supplies and increase laboratory capacity, and the federal government will work with schools to implement screening programs to help them reopen.
— Creates a program to develop new treatments for COVID-19 and other pandemic threats.
— Calls on the CDC to develop new public health guidance to help schools and businesses make decisions on reopening.
— Increases emergency funding to states and orders the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse states for certain costs tied to the pandemic, including supplies of protective equipment and for National Guard personnel supporting the pandemic response.
— Directs federal agencies to invoke the Defense Production Act to close shortages of syringes, N95 masks, gloves and other supplies needed for virus testing and vaccine administration.
— Calls for development of a national strategy to increase U.S. manufacturing of supplies needed to fight pandemics.
SCHOOLS AND WORKERS
— Biden will issue an order to develop a national strategy to reopen schools, hoping to meet his goal of having most K-8 schools open within his first 100 days in office.
— Orders the Education Department and the Department of Health and Human Services to develop guidelines to help schools reopen and to share best practices gleaned from schools across the nation.
— Calls on Congress to provide at least $130 billion in additional aid to schools and $35 billion for colleges and universities.
— Asks Congress to provide $25 billion to stabilize child care centers at risk of closing and $15 billion in child care aid for struggling families.
— Biden will issue an order calling on federal agencies to issue updated guidance on COVID-19 precautions for workers and to consider new federal emergency standards, including around mask-wearing, are needed.
— Steers virus relief funding to the hardest-hit businesses.
— Establish an equity task force to address disparities in rates of infection, illness and death across lines of race, ethnicity and geography.
— Direct federal agencies to expand data collection on high-risk populations and use that information to track and evaluate the pandemic response among those populations.
— Equity will be prioritized in the federal government’s pandemic response, including its efforts to provide protective equipment, test, vaccines and treatments.
— Create a U.S. Public Health Workforce Program made up of workers who will help with testing and vaccinations in their communities.
PREPARING FOR FUTURE THREATS
— The U.S. will rejoin the World Health Organization, reversing the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the global agency.
— Increases humanitarian aid and support other efforts to help fight COVID-19 around the world.
— Calls for congressional support to establish a national center to prevent, detect and respond to future biological threats.
Three new senators were sworn into office Wednesday after President Joe Biden's inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges.
In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden's nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Senators worked into the evening and overcame some Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member, in what's traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president's administration.
Haines, a former CIA deputy director, will become a core member of Biden’s security team, overseeing the agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community. She was confirmed 84-10.
The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged colleagues to turn the spirit of the new president’s call for unity into action.
“President Biden, we heard you loud and clear,” Schumer said in his first speech as majority leader. “We have a lengthy agenda. And we need to get it done together.”
Vice President Kamala Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to the new Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla — just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden.
The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.
Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, and Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term.
“Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years, we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.”
Also Read: Text of Biden’s inaugural speech
Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation's painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump.
Congress is being called on to consider Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election. The Senate will need to confirm other Biden Cabinet nominees.
To “restore the soul” of the country, Biden said in his inaugural speech, requires “unity.”
Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is not relinquishing power without a fight.
Haines' nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Okla., as he sought information about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over Biden's proposed immigration changes.
And McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation.
McConnell, in his first speech as the minority party leader, said the election results with narrow Democratic control of the House and Senate showed that Americans “intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power.”
The Republican leader said he looked forward working with the new president “wherever possible.”
At her first White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and center for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday.
Psaki said the president will be “quite involved” in negotiations over the COVID relief package, but left the details of the upcoming impeachment trial to Congress.
The Senate can “multitask,” she said.
That’s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial.
Meantime, the power-sharing talks between Schumer and McConnell have hit a stalemate.
It’s an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution over committee assignments and staffing resources, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden’s agenda.
Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances.
For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to “fight like hell” during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden’s election.