Biden Cornered in the Cold over Xi Jinping’s Hypersonic Missiles

  • Xi Jinping is leading the way in hypersonic missile capabilities and increases his influence in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific
  • Joe Biden is getting colder as he is falling behind on strategic competition
  • Global powers are about to increase military spending amid a security dilemma
Biden (USA) and Xi (China)
US President Biden and Chinese President Xi

Why is Biden’s Heat Level Cold? 

Answer: Due to the development and testing of China’s hypersonic missiles capabilities 

To say that President Joe Biden is concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles would be an understatement. After an arguably disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, China’s attempts to engage in open dialogue with the Taliban and aggressive incursions against Taiwan in early October, Xi Jinping developing and testing hypersonic missiles is the worst-case scenario for Biden to deal with. Keeping in mind that during the Brussels Summit last June, NATO described China as the next big systemic competitor and its growing military power as a challenge to the alliance, President Biden’s temperature is getting colder as we speak.

Tensions between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden have already been at a high on several fronts. For instance, China’s investments in military power alarmed the U.S. with regards to neighbouring countries’ security, like Taiwan. Xi Jinping claims Taiwan as part of Chinese territory and vows its ‘reunification’ with the mainland, while the U.S. presence in the area has added fuel to the conflict. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on the other hand, and the lack of a coordinated response from allies have opened the opportunity window for Xi to increase his sphere of influence. Xi is already trying to exploit the power vacuum created.

What is changing Biden’s heat level? 

Answer: Xi Jinping’s hypersonic missiles, a capacity that the US under Biden does not possess at the moment.

Hypersonic missiles’ capability to manoeuver at high speeds after take-off enables them to go undetected and defeat missile defences while minimising reaction time. This is what is new and has alarmed the U.S. administration. At the moment of writing, there is no antimissile defence system that can predict the orbit of a manoeuvring missile early enough. Such capabilities offer Jinping a strategic advantage against the U.S., while Biden is ‘cold cornered’, lagging behind on strategic competition. The U.S., Russia, South and North Korea are developing compatible technology as well; nevertheless, China has tested them and is leading the way.

With Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific at the heart of U.S.-Sino tensions, the administration of President Biden is ‘very concerned’ with the recent developments. Nevertheless, amid the rising tensions, President Biden does not seem to have a clear strategy in case China invades Taiwan by 2025, a fear that Taiwanese officials have expressed. In addition, the U.S. does not have a formal defence treaty with Taiwan, although it has repeatedly expressed its support and condemned China’s incursions.

What is driving Biden

Answer: Biden wants to preserve the U.S. influence in the area and hinder China’s rise 

Since President Biden came into office, he has made clear that he aims to untangle the U.S. from the ‘wars of the past’, such as the case of Afghanistan, and prepare for the challenges and threats that the future holds. He has also made clear that his foreign policy priorities are Russia and China.

Maintaining U.S. influence in the Indo-Pacific region is one of the main goals of the Biden administration. Pursuing the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and restraining the rise of China’s military power are at the core of his strategy. The trilateral deal between Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. (AUKUS) was a first step for him. Biden claimed that the deal aims to ensure “peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term” by sharing information in areas such as artificial intelligence, cyber and underwater defence capabilities.

In that troubled area, Taiwan is caught in the middle of Biden’s and Xi’s rivalry. Although its status is unclear, since neither Xi nor Biden see Taiwan as a sovereign state, Biden has said that he would defend the country against China. Therefore, China developing hypersonic missile capabilities that the U.S. does not currently have likely changes the power balance in the region and the US’ ability to defend Taiwan.

Nevertheless, comments on the possibility of a conflict vary between those who claim that the “U.S. military supremacy is absolutely being eroded, and the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific is shifting […]” and others who believe that “China’s new demonstrated capability does not yet fundamentally change the balance of military power […]”. One thing is for sure, Biden will have to deploy his soft powers in addition to prioritising the development of hypersonic missile technology.

In addition, recent developments indicate that Biden has rather miscalculated the dynamics in Central Asia. On October 27, China, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan met in Tehran to coordinate their policies on the future of Afghanistan. Afghanistan’s neighbours decided to cooperate with the Taliban on peace and security in the country. Although it is unlikely that these countries will recognise the Taliban as the legitimate Afghan governors anytime soon, it is very likely that Afghanistan will fall into the sphere of influence of China, Russia, and Iran. At the same time, the U.S., E.U. and NATO are nervously following the events, and Biden’s temperature is getting colder.

Overall, during 2021 President Biden has seen some victories, such as the AUKUS pact, but has also faced a huge backlash from Xi. Both in Central Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, Xi Jinping has managed to catch Biden off guard militarily and diplomatically by expanding his influence in neighbouring countries. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: Global and regional powers will likely heavily invest on defence in an indefinite arms race.

Although hypersonic missiles do not necessarily change the global nuclear balance, they add new weaponry to global powers’ toolkit. Biden will likely try to strengthen his (military) relationship with Japan, India, and Australia to counterbalance China’s threat in the region, while the Pentagon said that hypersonic missile test flights will be conducted in 2022. 

It is almost certain that, as a response, other global and regional powers are either pursuing or hastening their hypersonic capabilities. Other countries such as Iran and India will seek ways to develop hypersonic missile capabilities. Russia and North Korea are already testing hypersonic weapons, posing a security dilemma to their neighbours and rivals. Thus, we are experiencing yet another arms race quickly escalating.