“Weak towards China” is Joe Biden, sounded Donald Trump again and again in the presidential election campaign. “Nobody cracked down on China harder than I did,” said the then president. With Biden, however, the US threatened to take too soft a course vis-à-vis Beijing, Trump warned. The challenger at the time described its campaign as “Beijing Biden” and “China’s puppet”.
On Monday, the US-led by Biden blamed China for a large-scale hacker attack on the software company Microsoft. The cyberattack on the Microsoft Exchange e-mail server in March followed a “pattern of irresponsible, destructive and destabilizing behavior in cyberspace” and posed a serious threat to the economic and national security of the US, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Blinken accused the Chinese State Security Ministry of running a network of “criminal hackers” who carried out cyber attacks both on behalf of the state and in their own financial interests. The hackers have cost governments and companies billions “while at the same time they are on the payroll of the State Security Ministry”.
The United States responded to the Chinese hacker attacks with unprecedented concerted action. Washington brought together a broad alliance of Western states within a short period of time in order to take a common stand against the attacks. The USA, the EU, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and NATO stand united against this “immense threat” to their “economic and national security”, said a US government representative. “The US and our allies and partners are not ruling out further steps to bring the People’s Republic of China to account.”
This warning shot against China could become a model for dealing with the increasingly aggressive Communist Party in Beijing. In contrast to the Trump administration, which relied on a unilateral foreign policy, the Biden administration is seeking a united Western alliance against rival China. Trump, on the other hand, offended Western allies and tried to play off EU member states against each other.
No weakness towards China
Now the White House is operating with a different script, a multilateral approach. US Secretary of State Blinken had prepared the first meeting with his Chinese counterparts in Alaska based on a similar model. He previously traveled to Japan and South Korea. Before Blinken met his counterpart from Beijing in March, the USA invited to a summit – virtual because of Covid – with India, Australia and Japan, i.e. China’s adversaries. In a declaration by the four countries it was said: “We bring different perspectives and are united in a common vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.” This was followed by the legendary aggressive exchange between Blinken and Yang Jiechi, in China’s Communist Party for Foreign Policy responsible. The images and sounds from Anchorage went around the world.
Half a year after taking over government business on January 20, Biden has so far shown little weakness towards Beijing – on the contrary, and thus different from what Trump predicted in the election campaign. The president has long since given up his once-Beijing-friendly line, for example as a senator and vice president. In the main, he continues Trump’s policy in dealing with China, albeit less verbally radical. Biden refrains from denigrating like Trump, who described the corona virus as “Kung Flu”.
The biggest difference is that the US president is trying to forge a broader alliance against China. Politics like Biden’s strategy is to work in partnership with allies and both parties in Congress, said his spokeswoman Jen Psaki in Washington on Monday afternoon.
Berlin opposes Biden’s tough course
However, the corresponding success has not yet been resounding. Germany in particular, with its economic interests in China in view, is resisting a tough course towards China. The outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) sometimes appears as President Xi Jinping’s last lawyer in the West.
While the Biden government, for example, describes China’s dealings with the Muslim Uighur minority as “genocide”, Merkel avoids such a stipulation. Merkel had also tried to cram the European-Chinese investment protection agreement after years of stagnation. The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) is now on hold. After China’s massive sanctions against Western actors, a majority in favor in the European Parliament is not foreseeable. Washington is also having the origin of the coronavirus investigated, including the theory that the virus came from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan. Meanwhile, China is stonewalling and, as usual, is trying to undermine all transparency.
Meanwhile, the EU also found clear words about the hacking attack on Microsoft. He violated “against the norms of responsible government behavior,” it said. The European Council called on Beijing to take “all reasonable steps” to crack down on cyber criminals.
The US Department of Justice also announced indictments against four Chinese on Monday, accused of hacking the computers of dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the US and other countries between 2011 and 2018.
In the past, cyber attacks against US targets were often attributed to Russian actors. There have already been a number of ransomware attacks that have hit hundreds of companies this year. The attacks on a large US pipeline and, most recently, the software company Kaseya were particularly serious. The Beijing government denied the allegations. According to the Federal Office for Information Security (BSI), federal authorities were also affected.