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Economics

One Year Into His Term, Biden Finds Himself Boxed In on China

The administration’s inability to extract concessions from Beijing is a liability going into November’s midterms.

President Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 15, 2021.

President Biden meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Nov. 15, 2021.

Photographer: Susan Walsh/AP Photo

Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump signed the U.S.-China Phase One trade agreement, hailing it as an “historic” deal. Joe Biden’s team spent the presidential campaign criticizing it as too limited in scope and lacking teeth. Yet once the Democrat took office, there was a recalibration. In a speech in October, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai described the framework as “useful” and said it’s had “value in stabilizing the relationship.”

But she also pledged the administration would make sure Beijing lived up to its commitments. “We must defend to the hilt our economic interests,” she said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “And that means taking all steps necessary to protect ourselves against the waves of damage inflicted over the years through unfair competition.”