Will relations between the US and China improve under the Biden administration?

Will relations between the US and China improve under the Biden administration?
Source: Lintao Zhang, Reuters
Experts believe that President-elect Biden entering the White House will provide an opportunity for breakthroughs in rebuilding trust between the two countries, but many activists say the US “should not underestimate Beijing.”

In the days that followed arguably one of the most contentious elections in United States history, many experts turned to China in hopes of a response that would indicate what future relations between the two countries might look like.

However, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its state-run media outlets baffled analysts by their silence, with President Xi Jinping only recently congratulating the president-elect.

Coverage of the election was limited in Chinese media, with many critics alleging that Beijing did not want to appear over eager or fuel added tensions between the countries.

Nevertheless, Chinese citizens took to social media en masse to voice their opinions on the US election. While varied, these opinions took on a similar hope – that the end of President Donald Trump’s administration would usher in a better future for the relationship between the US and China.

Understanding US-China tensions

Economic and political conflict between the US and China reached new heights when, in 2018, Trump enacted sweeping tariffs on what he deemed China’s “unfair trade practices.”

The countries have since engaged in a political cold war, expelling one another’s journalists, issuing tit-for-tat sanctions and closing each other’s respective consulates in Houston and Chengdu.

“The irony is that I think what has increased the strained diplomatic relationship with China is the current US Administration’s desire to publicly portray strength and aggression towards China without that much behind it,” Kevin Bell, a former US-China embassy lawyer, told TMS.

“The Executive Order issued by outgoing President Trump is more of a paper tiger rather than something that has real teeth,” he added.

Stanley Chao, author of “Selling to China” and the managing director for All In Consulting, which advises companies with business in China, told TMS, “Trump portrayed China as the enemy. He wanted to decouple from China, bring American factories back to the US, and impose heavy sanctions on China to cripple its economy and government.”

“These expectations are impossible to achieve,” he added. “The US and China are already too mingled together to break apart.”

Chao went on to say that “most Americans don’t realize how much US companies are heavily dependent upon China, and it’s not just for manufacturing.”

“Without China,” says Chao, “trillions of dollars of market capital would be lost in the stock markets.”

The world’s two largest economic powers forged close ties under the administration of former President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama described this alliance by saying, “The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world.”

Once again, many are looking toward the future in hopes of reestablishing this connection during the Biden administration. China, it appears, is also optimistic.

The SCMP reported that the Chinese military was told to steer clear of US election coverage to avoid being misread as taking sides.

Analysts and media professionals say this handling of American election coverage reflects Beijing’s appreciation of just how sensitive an issue China is in the US.

“China needs to keep [a] larger distance from the US presidential election to avoid getting entangled in its controversy. This actually shows that China respects the US as a whole,” Global Times’s Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin tweeted.

Future for US-China relations

The Chinese state news media reacted with cautious optimism to Biden’s victory, expressing the hope that he would stabilize the quickly-deteriorating relations between the two countries.

According to a statement released by the state-run Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday, November 25, President Xi stated a desire for a “healthy and stable” cooperation between the two world powers.

“We hope the two sides will uphold the spirit of non-conflict and non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, will focus on cooperation, control differences and promote healthy and stable development of Chinese-U.S. relations,” the statement read.

“The primary difference is that there will be less volatility by the Biden Administration and a renewed pattern of more traditional diplomatic exchanges,” said Bell.

“Biden, I expect,” Chao added, “will take advantage of these shared commonalities. He’ll bring China to the table on such issues as climate control, North Korea, COVID-19, and economic trade.”

“At the same time, he’ll create a multi-lateral front bringing other democratic countries like the UK, Germany, Australia, Japan, and Canada together to confront China on such issues as cyber espionage, the trade imbalance, and opening up China’s domestic markets to foreign competitors,” says Chao.

Experts believe that Biden entering the White House will provide an opportunity for breakthroughs in resuming high-level communication and rebuilding mutual strategic trust between the two countries.

Still, many activists are adamant that the US “should not underestimate Beijing.”

Speaking to TMS, Joshua Wong, the face of the Hong Kong democracy movement, said that “Hongkongers hope the new administration can continue standing with Hong Kong and safeguarding our democratic values because supporting Hong Kong against suppressions is not the matter of left or right, but a matter of right or wrong.”

“Harris was also one of the co-sponsors of HK Human Rights and Democracy Act last year,” Wong added. “When Beijing started to use the new draconian law to arrest the city’s protesters, Biden also condemned the repression and urged putting American values back to its foreign policy.”

Wong continued, saying that “Apart from what the new administration should do, it is clear that Hongkongers look forward to who the next Secretary of State will be, and how the national security council is formulated.”

Wong, who is currently being remanded in custody, concludes by stating that residents of the city, which has seen much political turmoil over the past two years, “hope the new administration can revise the worsening situation in Hong Kong” and that the US “should not underestimate Beijing’s intention to tighten its grip.”

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