Chapter 3 China’s Increasingly Narrow Roads
From November 2020, when the U.S. presidential election results are announced, to early March 2021 is arguably the very moment that the Chinese government became too complacent about gaining the upper hand in the competition with Washington since the U.S.-China trade war began in March 2018. First of all, Donald Trump, who has always been unpredictable and a headache for Beijing, is confirmed to leave office. It is expected that the successor, Joe Biden, will take a non-confrontational route, bringing to a close the Sino-U.S. trade confrontation that has thrown unstable variables into the Indo-Pacific region and the world situation. Second, due to the intensifying political confrontation at home and the out-of-control COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing judges that the new U.S. administration will prioritize domestic affairs and not have time to compete with China, making the next few years a “strategic opportunity period” for China.
Therefore, on November 4, 2020, the day after the U.S. election, Beijing publicly solicited legislative proposals for the Maritime Police Act, which was formally passed by the Chinese National People’s Congress on January 22, 2021, providing the legal basis for the Chinese Maritime Police to use force against foreign vessels. On November 15, 2020, fifteen member countries, including Japan, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, and other U.S. allies, formally signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), opting to join the free trade agreement that includes China. In addition, after seven years of negotiations, the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which aims to improve market access for both sides, was finalized on December 30, 2020, and is scheduled to be voted on and ratified by the European Parliament in the coming year. In short, the post-election disputes in the United States and a series of diplomatic scores for China have led Xi Jinping to revisit the “unprecedented changes of the century” argument, emphasizing that China has “time and momentum” and urging Chinese officials to “recognize the general trend of the rise of the East and the fall of the West, the stark contrast between the rule of China and the chaos of the West... China can already look at the world with equanimity.”
However, China’s situation in the Indo-Pacific region has taken a sharp turn for the worse since March 2021. The series of provocative policies made under the misjudgment that the East is rising and the West is falling has failed to bring a straight path as Beijing expected and allowed Washington to convince and unite with allies to fight against China.
“China’s New Maritime Law Hits the Road, Enforcement Powers Expand, and the Diaoyu Islands Smell of Gunpowder,” BBC Chinese, March 2, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/zhongwen/trad/chinese-news-56249465.
 Andre, “Xi Jinping says China can look at the world at the same time, the United States is a worry,” RFI, March 9, 2021, https://reurl.cc/XlDlQE.