US-China relations to change under Biden, analysts say, but not radically

23-Nov-2020 Intellasia | Local12 | 6:02 AM Print This Post

As a candidate for president, Joe Biden accused President Donald Trump of embracing foreign leaders who are “thugs,” and named the president of China, Xi Jinping, as one of them.

The former vice president cited Trump’s previous history of business dealings in China as evidence that the incumbent is “weak” on the Communist-led government in Beijing.

US President-elect Joe Biden. (AP)

US President-elect Joe Biden. (AP)

And Biden promised, in a campaign appearance in Dallas, Pennsylvania on October 24: “I’ll do what he’s unable to do: lead an effective strategy to mobilise a true international effort to pressure, isolate, and punish China.”

That campaign promise now appears to be the first that President-elect Biden intends to break. That became evident on Thursday, when a reporter, attending Biden’s news conference with vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware, referenced his campaign trail language about punishing China and asked if the punishments envisioned will include economic sanctions and tariffs.

“It’s not so much about punishing China,” Biden said. “It’s about making sure China understands they got to play by the rules.”

While those remarks signaled a shift in posture towards China — made possible by Biden’s transition from candidate to president-elect — China scholars cautioned that any overall shifts in US-China policy under a Biden-Harris administration will not be as radical as the campaign rhetoric of both men once suggested might materialise in the event of a Biden victory.

“China’s here to stay. It’s essentially our chief geopolitical rival in the world for decades to come. I don’t think there’s any magic wand that makes this relationship work well,” said Justin Jacobs, a professor of Chinese history at American University and the author of The Compensations of Plunder: How China Lost Its Treasures. “But I do think there’s small things that can sort of oil the hinges, and some of those are [considered] low-level, soft-power engagement.”

Jacobs suggested that the next administration will preserve, perhaps even intensify, the Trump administration’s crackdowns on intrusive Chinese technologies and intellectual property theft, as well as the incumbent’s opposition to Chinese territorial aggression, particularly in the South China Sea.

Those policies drew renewed rebuke from the Chinese government this week. “Some people in the US have got into the habit of hyping up the so-called ‘China threat,’” said Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian in a briefing from Beijing on Thursday, “because they need excuses for their expanding military prowess and budget.”

One area where Jacobs foresaw changes is in trade policy, marked, under the Trump administration by escalating tariffs levied by both nations. “I think that’s probably going to be one of these things where Biden — you have a change in administration, he’s going to come in and you need to make some sort of an initial good-faith effort to say, ‘Let’s patch things up, let’s turn this around.’ And I think [a shift in trade policy] is probably something that can be one of those initial steps.”

Among the other course corrections analysts see the Biden-Harris administration making are the potential reopening of consulates closed, in tit-for-tat fashion, by both countries earlier this year; the restoration of student exchanges to pre-Trump-era levels; and a reinvestment by Washington in multilateral organisations focused on the Asian-Pacific region.

President-elect Biden signaled one such move at his news conference on Thursday, when he vowed — on day one of his presidency — to take the steps necessary to re-enroll the US in the World Health Organization. President Trump had withdrawn the US from the United Nations agency, citing its alleged collaboration with China in the initial concealment of the coronavirus from the rest of the world.

Still, like President Trump before him, Biden acknowledged that the WHO requires reformation. “We have to not only deal with this pandemic, we got to plan for the next one,” the president-elect said.



Category: China

Print This Post

Comments are closed.