Beijing expects less volatile relations with Washington under Joe Biden, but does not believe the new administration will deviate significantly from the hardline approach pursued by Donald Trump, according to Chinese government advisors and analysts.
As of Monday morning, neither the Chinese State Department nor President Xi Jinping had publicly commented on Mr Biden’s victory over Mr Trump in the US presidential election. The Chinese state media has instead focused on how divided the US appeared to be and how reluctant Mr Trump is to officially admit.
“The fate of US democracy rests in Trump’s hands,” wrote Hu Xijin, editor of the ultra-nationalist tabloid Global Times, on Twitter after the victory was confirmed by Biden. “If he rejects this result. . . it will have far-reaching effects. “
The hot spots between the Trump administration and China ranged from restrictions on access to US technology to Beijing’s policies on Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
On Monday, some state media, including the Global Times, expressed cautious optimism that tense relations between the world’s two largest economies could be mended. Most advisors in Beijing, however, believe that the tensions that have dragged China-US relations to their lowest levels in at least 40 years will not be resolved quickly.
Biden sees China as a competitor, while Trump sees China as an opponent
“There will be no significant difference under Biden on important issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Tibet and China’s religious and human rights situations,” advises Shi Yinhong, professor at Renmin University in Beijing, China’s State Councilor for Foreign Affairs. “But Biden is nowhere near as wild, vulgar and volatile as Trump, and it can be expected that he will give Washington’s China policy more predictability and stability.”
A notable source of friction has been Xinjiang, northwest China’s region, where more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs have been arbitrarily arrested. Beijing claims that its detention centers are vocational training centers designed to curb religious extremism.
At times, Mr Trump downplayed the matter while pursuing a phase 1 trade deal between the countries. But within weeks of the deal being signed in January, the spread of Covid-19 from central China to the US hit both the American economy and Trump’s hopes for re-election.
Then Vice President Joe Biden hosted Xi Jinping when the Chinese leader visited the United States in 2012, just before he came to power. © Reuters
The Trump administration has also sought to restrict Chinese companies’ access to US technology and impose sanctions on officials in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, where a controversial national security law was passed earlier this year to quell pro-democracy protests.
Other current hotspots were US arms sales to Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing claims as part of its territory, and Mr. Xi’s construction of island fortifications in the South China Sea.
Chinese analysts expect less geopolitical spats under Mr. Biden than under Mr. Trump, who annoyed Mr. Xi with sudden tariff increases at critical moments of the trade talks and described Covid-19 as a “Chinese plague” or “Wuhan virus”.
“Biden sees China as a competitor, while Trump sees China as an opponent,” said Lu Xiang, an expert on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “Competitor relationships are based on rules.”
A person who advises Chinese leaders and asks not to be identified found that Mr. Biden has deeper problems at home before turning his attention to China.
“The biggest problems for Biden are domestically, starting with Covid but also in terms of economy and infrastructure,” the person said. “China is unlikely to be at the top of his list.”
Additional coverage from Xinning Liu in Beijing
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