It has become a foregone conclusion that Democratic contender Joe Biden will become the next US president. Western allies of the US have extended congratulations to Biden regardless of President Donald Trump's attitude. Under Trump's four-year tenure, relations with China have changed the most in the US foreign policies. The all-round crackdown and containment of China could be regarded as the biggest "diplomatic legacy" that Trump will leave behind. To what extend will Biden continue the "Trump line" in relations with China?
Most analysts believe that the high-intensity conflicts launched by the Trump administration, including the trade war, have reset the general environment of China-US relations and changed the US elites' thinking toward China. If Biden takes over, he will maintain a tough attitude on China. On what the US defines as "human rights" issues such as the Xinjiang and Hong Kong affairs, the possibility cannot be excluded that a Democratic government would go even further. In short, the US is unlikely to ease the pressure on China on key issues.
However, it should also be noted that since the beginning of this year, the Trump administration has on many occasions deliberately exerted pressure on China, as it adopted pressuring China as a campaign strategy. It believed that the tougher it was on China and the more it tried to pass the buck to China for the US' failure to contain the coronavirus epidemic, the more votes it would win. Therefore, bubbles have occurred in the US' China policy this year where the Trump administration created tensions in China-US relations on purpose.
We believe it is possible to pop those bubbles. Beijing should undertake to communicate with the Biden team as thoroughly as it can, making greater efforts to recover China-US relations to a state of great predictability.
First, there is a lot of room for adjustment in China-US relations in the epidemic fight. Biden's top priority when he takes office is curbing the epidemic. As he said previously, there is no other choice but to fight the epidemic through scientific approaches. In this way, it will be hard for the US to continue its "blame China" and "hold China accountable" strategies. It will be possible for China and the US to shift from fierce confrontation to pragmatic cooperation when it comes to fighting the epidemic. Cooperation in this area may create more clues to reevaluate some problems inherent in China-US relations.
Second, Biden has confirmed his intent to have the US rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change. To promote the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, China-US cooperation is indispensable, which will also increase noncompeting topics between China and the US.
Third, in terms of the economy and trade, Biden is highly likely to continue Trump's "maximum pressure" campaign, but probably not with reckless gambling-style moves. In the past few years, the US has adopted some clumsy measures that have hurt both itself and others. Washington has failed to substantially reduce the trade deficit with Beijing but has had many American companies openly voice their discontent. A change in administration might bring some pragmatic attempts of adjustment in this regard based on realities.
Fourth, the Trump administration has gone too far and damaged the faith of China and the US to engage in more people-to-people links. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic in the US, many Chinese families have abandoned their plans to have their children study in the US. As a result, the supply-demand relationship regarding education has greatly changed - there is not much room for Biden to continue the suppression on Chinese students and scholars.
Generally speaking, the Trump administration has been too obsessed with tough policies on China. Many trump cards have already been discarded, leaving few resources for the Biden administration to act "tougher" over China. Frankly, China-US relations have been very abnormal so far. The tension misaligns the two countries' real interests. Washington saw Beijing as an "enemy" in the past years, but the two are indeed not rivals. They are competing, with interests integrating within each other. Hence, bringing order out of chaos in the US will come about sooner or later.
Of course, the Democratic Party is more stubborn about values. But as two major powers, China and the US will hardly slide into strategic confrontation simply because of divergences on values. In addition, Biden will pay more attention to consolidating transatlantic relations, but this alliance was not built on China. If Washington wants to exploit its alliance system to deal with China, it is bound to be restrained by its allies. Many US allies have economic interests with China and they are not willing to confront China in an effort to strengthen alliances with the US.
China should not harbor any illusions that Biden's election will ease or bring a reversal to China-US relations, nor should it weaken its belief in improving bilateral ties. US competition with China and its guard against China will only intensify. But it's in the common interests of people from both countries and of international community that China-US relations become eased and controllable. The two countries must work together and take joint actions to explore and work on realizing some kind of stability and predictability for their bad relations and managing bilateral ties from worsening to a destructive extent.
The fundamental way for China to cope with US strategic challenges is to empower itself. China must become a country the US cannot suppress or destabilize, and make it that cooperation with China is the best option for the US to realize its national interests. This is the ultimate principle.