President Biden’s Asia Trip and the China Challenge Summit June 9

Recently I was interviewed by Boyd Matheson from KSL Radio on his Inside Sources podcast. We talked about President Biden’s trip to Asia and what he hoped to accomplish there, including the types of signals President Biden would likely convey to his counterparts in South Korea and Japan, and the upcoming China Challenge Summit at which I will be speaking on the practical aspects of doing business with China, and untangling your business from China.

If you would like to listen to the podcast, click here. Otherwise, read on. To register to attend the China Challenge Summit, click here.

Boyd Matheson: Jonathan Bench is a board member for World Trade Center Utah as well as an attorney who helps public and private companies with international and domestic business transactions. Recently, he accompanied Governor Spencer Cox on his trade mission to Mexico, so he knows a little bit about how these trips tend to go down. Jonathan, thanks for joining us today.

Jonathan Bench: Thank you. It’s great to be with you.

Boyd Matheson: So, as the president is now somewhere on his way (first stop is in Korea), he’s trying to make that pivot to Asia. Obviously, there’s a whole host of things going on as it relates to China. Give us just a little bit of your sense of what is the lay of the land, what are the real goals and targets of this mission from the President?

Jonathan Bench: I think there are several things going on. President Biden is trying to signal to our allies in Asia that we are serious about supporting them. I think the way that we dealt with the fallout from Afghanistan shook a lot of our allies. This comes on the back of a Trump administration during which we saw a lot of chest pounding as well. And so I think a lot of our international counterparts are wondering how serious is the United States about supporting its allies and to what lengths will we go as a nation to support them in terms of threats from China, North Korea, and economic difficulties from COVID fallout. There are a lot of concerns, and everyone’s still looking to the United States for leadership. And so this trip I see as reassuring our allies in his first trip to Asia as president. I see that as an important signal that we’re getting.

Boyd Matheson: Yeah. I love the fact that you brought up Afghanistan, and I was not expecting that but I think you’ve hit something that’s really important in terms of that reassurance to our allies that we will be there. Any other insight into that or things that you expect the President will try to do or you hope he tries to do in terms of kind of reissuing or rebuilding that trust and that confidence in the United States as an ally in the region?

Jonathan Bench: Let me give you a little bit more context, in terms of China background, because I’ve been studying Chinese and China for 20 years. And so I’m a China student. I’m a fan of China in many ways, but also a hard realist. And so when we look at what China has been doing, ever since we helped China to the WTO in early 2000s, we wanted to help China. China was using a little bit of subterfuge and saying, “We’re just a backwards country full of people who don’t know how to do business,” when in reality they crafted a long-term strategy to surpass the United States as the global superpower. And so that’s the context that we’re living in.

How is the U.S. going to counter China? [This will be addressed in depth during the China Challenge Summit.] We’re trying to do it militarily with protecting the Pacific. We’re also just trying to reassure everyone, including the Chinese people, that the U.S. is going to continue to play a strong role. So for instance, recently China and the Solomon Islands entered into a security pact that really panicked New Zealand and Australia, particularly, because the Pacific has always been home territory for the U.S. military. And so, China has not only been entering into economic partnerships with various countries in its Belt and Road Initiative, but also these security pacts are a new type of influence that China is trying to exert around the world, countering the U.S. as much as it can.

So, President Biden really has to take a strong stance. We built up the Quad last year, if you were paying attention. The U.S., Australia, India, Japan Quad framework was very prominent in the news and so we see the new South Korea president, Yoon Seok-youl, coming in and being more hawkish toward China. So we see the difficulties with Russia and Ukraine have accelerated China’s timeline. A lot of people said that was an unintentional acceleration. China was not ready to accelerate this timeline as quickly, but Russia played the card and China reiterated its support for Russia on the eve of the Ukraine invasion.

And so everyone is looking at each other across the poker table now, trying to figure out who should play their cards, and how did it happen this way. But I see everything positive in this trip, and the President is going to be dealing with going to Japan, announcing the new Indo-Pacific economic framework, we understand. It’s not just a security pact, which I think is important to Asian economies, especially that they understand U.S. commitment is not just to U.S. national security interests. It is to our allies and their economic interests, which often speaks much louder than defense interests.

Boyd Matheson: Yeah, I think that’s so important. The economics of it all is interesting and obviously on the defense component to it. China and Taiwan, how that’s playing out, as you mentioned, in terms of who’s playing what card when, where, and why. And then of course we’ve also got North Korea, who has been rattling a few sabers and testing a few long-range missiles.

Jonathan Bench: North Korea is always trying to remind us that they’re there, even with their latest COVID wave that they’re calling “just a fever.” North Korea knows when the spotlight is on Asia, and North Korea is so good at saber-rattling that we should expect it. I mean, it’s always a concern. Of course this is important to our South Korean allies and the Japanese, because it’s a very real clear present concern as long as that regime is in power in North Korea.

Boyd Matheson: Anything else that you’re watching for as this this trip takes place? Again, this is an important one, both in terms of security interests, but also in terms of economic interests. What else are you watching for?

Jonathan Bench: You know, I have to put a plug in for the China Challenge Summit that we’re hosting on June 9, because we’re bringing together national experts on China. So I deflect a little bit because I know a lot, but I am candid enough to know that I don’t know everything. So I’m going there to learn as well as to speak on June 9 down at Utah Valley University. Go to where we are bringing together a huge cadre of impressive people. We’ve got [Former Ambassador] Jon Huntsman, Matt Pottinger, Nadia Schladow, the latter two of which are both former deputy national security advisors. We have think tanks that are coming with world-class talent and expertise, all coming to Utah. And everyone who has any kind of interest in China should be there and should bring their notebooks. Whether you’re really looking at China from a humanitarian perspective or from a business perspective, there are important reasons for wanting to understand all of those dynamics.

So ultimately, I will answer your question. I expect good things from this [trip by President Biden]. I mean, markets and businesses needs certainty, certainly with the way the economy is looking right now. Everyone wants some certainty. Certainty is what breeds good business environments. And so to the extent that we show our commitment through these agreements, and signaling that we’re involved on the international stage, that will do good for markets. It will encourage CEOs and others to continue to build their businesses abroad. And Utah has a big stake in that. Utah has a huge portion of our economy built on the back of international business. And so I only see it as a positive for Utah, which continues to be an economic leader even in the face of COVID.

Boyd Matheson: Absolutely great insight from Jonathan Bench joining us and discussing that China Challenge Summit down at Utah Valley University in conjunction with World Trade Center Utah June the ninth. We’re going to be keeping our eye on that one as well. The people coming in are just really extraordinary. The conversations will be absolutely fascinating. Jonathan Bench, board member for World Trade Center, Utah, and that we appreciate you joining us a great insight as always.

Jonathan Bench: It has been great. Thank you Boyd.I hope to see some of you at the China Challenge Summit, either in person or virtually. For more reading on current China business dynamics, see:

U.S.-China Trade Policy and The Future of China-Focused Section 301 Duties

How to Close Your China Business The Airbnb (Right) Way

Protecting Your IP from an Increasingly Rapacious China