China Feels Boxed In by the U.S. but Has Few Ways to Push Back

President Biden’s effort to build American security alliances in China’s backyard is likely to reinforce the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s view that Washington is leading an all-out campaign of “containment, encirclement and suppression” of his country. And there is not much Mr. Xi can do about it.

To China, Mr. Biden’s campaign looks nothing short of a reprise of the Cold War, when the world was split into opposing blocs. In this view, Beijing is being hemmed in by U.S. allies and partners, in a cordon stretching over the seas on China’s eastern coast from Japan to the Philippines, along its disputed Himalayan border with India, and even across the vast Pacific Ocean to a string of tiny, but strategic, island nations.

That pressure on China expanded Thursday when Mr. Biden hosted the leaders of Japan and the Philippines at the White House, marking the first-ever trilateral summit between the countries. American officials said the meeting was aimed at projecting a united front against China’s increasingly aggressive behavior against the Philippines in the South China Sea and against Japan in the East China Sea. Mr. Biden described America’s commitment to defense agreements with Japan and the Philippines as “ironclad.”

The summitended with agreements to hold more naval and coast guard joint exercises, and pledges of new infrastructure investment and technology cooperation. It builds on a groundbreaking defense pact made at Camp David last August between Mr. Biden and the leaders of Japan and South Korea, as well as on plans unveiled last year to work with Australia and Britain to develop and deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Mr. Biden has also sought to draw India, China’s chief rival for influence with poorer countries, closer to Washington’s orbit through a security grouping called the Quad. And a high-profile visit to Washington by the Indian leader last year has intensified Chinese suspicions about India.

“China is clearly alarmed by these developments,” said Jingdong Yuan, director of the China and Asia Security Program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Chinese interpretations would be that the U.S. and its allies have clearly decided that China needs to be contained.”

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