After the spy balloon clash, US-China tensions weigh on Biden’s speech.

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As Russia’s war in Ukraine presents a more pressing day-to-day foreign policy issue for President Biden and his aides, they have repeatedly said that China is America’s biggest long-term challenger — even if the two countries have strong trade ties. .

The episode of the spy balloon that unfolded in the skies over the United States last week and the resulting rise in diplomatic tensions underscored this. Many Democratic and Republican lawmakers who will be in the chamber when Mr. Biden delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday night have demanded answers about China’s fleet of spy balloons, past airspace intrusions American and espionage activities.

Mr Biden could mention the balloon in his speech and point out how he ordered the US military to shoot down the floating white orb on Saturday – over the waters off South Carolina, so no one is harmed by falling debris. Either way, he’ll likely highlight the much broader actions he’s taken to confront and constrain China over the past year. Democratic and Republican leaders compete to be seen as more hawkish towards China than others, and they are sensitive to any criticism that they are being “soft” on the rival superpower.

Mr Biden has followed the Trump administration in stepping up its efforts to limit China’s technological advances and the global reach of its high-tech companies. But Mr. Biden has embraced broader policies. Notably, in October, he announced that the US government would ban US companies from exporting advanced semiconductor chips and manufacturing equipment to China unless the companies obtain special licenses. The rules also aim to prohibit certain foreign companies from doing the same.

Since then, Japan and the Netherlands have agreed to join the United States in imposing new limits on the export of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China.

The Biden administration has also taken steps to build up military forces in the Asia-Pacific region in preparation for a possible armed conflict with China. The democratic and self-governing island of Taiwan, a US partner that China claims is its territory, is the biggest trouble spot.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced during a visit to the Philippines that the US military would have access to no fewer than nine bases around the island chain, including nearby sites. from Taiwan, for temporary deployments.

The Biden administration has also shaped arms sales to Taiwan with the goal of arming the Taiwanese military with ammunition and defense systems that US officials believe would be best suited to repel a Chinese force or deter Chinese leaders to order an invasion.

One question that remains unanswered is whether diplomacy will improve after the spy balloon episode. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken canceled a weekend trip to Beijing after the balloon was announced on Thursday, saying he would only visit “when conditions permit.” He had planned to be back in Washington for Mr Biden’s State of the Union address after a two-day stopover in Beijing.