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The US State Department’s “China Group” is about to start, how to deal with China’s challenges?

 The US State Department’s “China Group” is about to start, how to deal with China’s challenges?

The U.S. State Department building in Foggy Bottom, Washington. (Reuters)

Following the establishment of departments dedicated to China by the US Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency, US Secretary of State Blinken recently officially announced that the State Department is establishing a “China Group” to deal with the most important geopolitical threat facing the United States in the 21st century. . How will this new agency work? How does it coordinate with other government departments in China? Can its establishment effectively meet the challenges posed by China?

“The scale and scope of the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China will pose an unprecedented test of U.S. diplomacy,” Secretary of State Blinken said on May 26 during the Biden administration’s China policy speech at George Washington University. “As part of my modernization agenda, I am determined to provide the State Department and our diplomats with the necessary tools to meet this challenge head-on. This includes the creation of a ‘China House’ – a joint State Department department An integrated team — across different issues and regions to coordinate and implement our policies, working with Congress as necessary.”

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken elaborates on the Biden administration's China policy at George Washington University on May 26, 2022. (Associated Press)

On February 10, 2021, when President Biden first inspected the Pentagon as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he announced that the Defense Department had established a new China task force “to examine our strategy, operational concepts, technology, military posture, and more.” CIA Director Burns also announced the establishment of a high-level “China Mission Center” on October 6 last year.

How does the “China Group” work?

In his speech, Secretary of State Blinken did not mention the specific situation of this “China group”, including personnel structure, budget, structure, and work process.

In response to a media reporter’s request for relevant details, a US State Department spokesperson only said that the “China Group” is a comprehensive team within the State Department.

“We will continue and accelerate our efforts to integrate expertise and resources on the People’s Republic of China in this new central policy coordination center,” the spokesman said.

The new entity, a centralized hub focused on tracking China’s global activities, plans to increase the number of officials dedicated to tracking China to track Beijing’s growing footprint in major countries around the world, according to a disclosure on the Foreign Policy magazine website last September. The changes could include an increase of 20 to 30 staff, which would mean an increase from the current 25 in the State Council’s China team to around 60.

In addition, support for “watch” officials in the Chinese region will be increased. Such officials, first created during the Trump administration, work under the State Department’s regional bureaux to track Beijing’s activities around the world.

The State Council has its own office building dedicated to the “China Group” and is undergoing renovations. The new agency is not expected to officially start operating until 2024, according to people familiar with the matter.

The rationale behind the creation of the “China Group”

As some observers have pointed out, in Washington, nothing says a thing more than the creation of a new agency. Some former U.S. government officials and experts on Sino-U.S. relations believe that the State Department’s formation of the “China Group” is an attitude of the Biden administration to the American people and Congress on the China issue.

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“I think the administration is trying to respond to the public and internal assessment that China is our biggest challenge in the new era, and they want to show Congress and the public that they are effectively preparing and dealing with this issue by devoting resources, especially manpower resources to show the world how to get the best results for the United States in a time of confrontation with China’s competition,” Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Special Assistant to the President under President George W. Bush and Senior National Security Council Asian Affairs Director Douglas Paal told the media via Skype in California.

Zack Cooper, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who has served in both the Defense Department and the National Security Council, said that while there aren’t many details yet about how the new agency will work, its creation illustrates how much the U.S. poses to China. Challenges await.

“I think the Biden administration is trying to show its seriousness about China by expanding its offices across the government,” he told the media by email in Singapore.

The Voice of America noted that after the Biden administration took office, the State Department provided Chinese translations of the Biden administration’s policy statements, minutes of talks, and important speeches on its website. In addition, the U.S. State Department also has special staff to run the “Fog Valley Feihong” blog site and write articles about all aspects of the United States. Foggy Bottom is the seat of the U.S. State Department.

More manpower and material resources to deal with China’s general support:

Former US State Department officials and Washington observers expressed support for the State Department’s increased manpower and material resources to deal with China.

“U.S. diplomacy clearly needs to keep pace with China’s rise as a global power, which has broad bipartisan support,” Patrick Cronin, director of Asia-Pacific security affairs at the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington, told the U.S. in an email. Voice said. “The creation of the ‘China Group’ represents a growing team of diplomatic professionals focused on China’s multifaceted activities in various regions of the globe, and it will strengthen U.S. foreign policy in response to Chinese officials and strengthen those who must engage with Beijing. International actors in policy confrontation.” Yu Maochun, who

served as former US Secretary of State Pompeo’s China policy adviser, previously told the media that the US State Department handles China affairs in the same way as other countries. It involves two basic levels: one is the day-to-day diplomatic and consular interaction with Chinese counterparts; the other is the foreign policy aspect, which is handled by State Department policy planners and senior leaders, especially the Secretary of State. He believes that the establishment of the “China Group” “reflects the reality of China’s increasing weight in U.S. foreign policy” and is a welcome move.

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Other observers believe that the establishment of the new agency would also reduce internal turf wars over policy by including representatives from all China-related departments of the State Council and the National Security Council.

Potential Challenges:

for the New Agency Any new agency will inevitably face some challenges as well, said Doug Bao, a former unofficial US ambassador to Taiwan and director of the Taipei office of the American Institute in Taiwan.

“Everyone wants them to deepen and expand the capabilities of the United States to meet the challenges that China has identified when it comes to dealing with China and China’s activities in the world. But every time you create these new institutions, you know, you are faced with managing larger institutions and integrating them into existing institutions,” he said.

For example, he said, if the secretary of state wants to give a speech on China, generally he will ask the China Section of the State Department and other departments to evaluate his speech, make changes, and so on. After the new body was established, the speech had to go through several hands before it was finalized. There will be the same opinion, and there will be different opinions. This will require coordination within departments and through processes across departments. This process has always been a challenge.

In addition to the challenges that new institutions generally face, the China expert also cited one unique to the “China group.”

“In the current environment, where there is a lot of skepticism about the recruitment and influence operations of some Chinese intelligence agencies, it’s a challenge to recruit people who are interested and experienced in China and then convince them that there is a career path to follow. ,” Bao said.

In his view, as the State Department and other government agencies devote more and more resources to institutions related to China issues, the personnel, bureaucratic and organizational challenges they face will be enormous.

Still, other observers warn that the new bureaucracy could hinder rather than optimize efforts to counter China’s growing economic, diplomatic and military might.

However, Cooper of the American Enterprise Institute believes that it is a good thing to devote more resources to dealing with China’s problems.

“I don’t think these new bureaucracies are going to make coordination harder — they’re going to make it easier. But it really depends on whether these teams have significantly increased staffing and resources. If so, in In my view, they are more likely to be an asset than a hindrance,” Cooper said.

Maochun Yu, who is currently director of the Hudson Institute’s China Center, believes that each U.S. government agency has its own unique mission and bureaucratic purview, and there should be no conflict. He said that during the Trump administration, there was active discussion and coordination among all agencies, and it worked very effectively.

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Repeat settings?

Dean Cheng, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, believes that if the State Department’s “China group” just focuses a group of China experts on the State Department, it’s duplication because the rest of the U.S. government has There are various experts on China issues.

“If you’re going to have a ‘China group,’ what I’d actually like to see is a State Department convening a group of China experts, including from the Treasury Department, the Commerce Department, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), NASA ), because China is a comprehensive power that poses a comprehensive challenge. The State Department needs to think about not just things like diplomacy and summits, but also trade, investment, and Chinese investment in the U.S. and Western Chinese investment. The experts in this area don’t necessarily all live in Foggy Bottom, and this kind of cross-talk is extremely necessary,” Cheng Bin told the media.

He believes that in how to better confront China, he prefers to let the departments responsible for economic and trade issues such as the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce, rather than the State Department and the Defense Department, play a leading role, just as the Trump administration put economic and trade issues on top of it. at the core of its China policy.

“China is currently unlikely to go to war with the US, or even Taiwan, leading to US intervention, but it is the US’s economic, financial and technological competitor every day, so as we think about how to confront China, let It could do us a lot of good for these issues to be our lead,” he said.

How does China view the “China Group”?

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded quite vigorously to Secretary Blinken’s speech on China policy, and even blocked the full text of the speech in China, but has not commented on the establishment of the “China Group” by the State Council.

Liu Pengyu, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in the United States, made this reply when responding to the Hong Kong “South China Morning Post” on how to view the establishment of the “China Group” by the State Council: “No matter how the U.S. government adjusts its internal mechanism, if its ultimate goal is to contain China, interfere in China’s internal affairs and harm China’s interests, of course, China will oppose it.”

Can the creation of the “China Group” and similar institutions effectively help the United States confront an increasingly aggressive China? Doug Pao, a former White House official, believes there will be a positive assessment of these efforts within the administration, but only with time will an objective judgment of their success be made.

“An organization has to adapt to its mission and face the realities it faces,” he said.

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