The day is coming when American voters will choose who will assume the presidency of the country for the next five years. The review swings between Democrat Joe Biden, an old American politician, and Republican Donald Trump, a newcomer to business, erratic in decisions, fractured in style. Among the spectators most attentive to the development of events are the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, and the best comrades of the Chinese Communist Party.
The past four years have been particularly difficult for the Chinese government, with relations with the Americans reaching historically low levels. The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on two-thirds of imports, blocked investments by the Asian giant, and barred the country from entering Chinese technology. Secretary of State Mike Pompeu dared to consider the nearly fifty years of commitment to China a mistake for the country, a statement that did not lead to the great moments of compromise reached between the two states. The statement, however, must be framed in the context of an election campaign, aimed at capturing specific segments of the American electorate.
Between Biden and Trump, there is no doubt that the Chinese political elite have a preference for the Democratic candidate, although some Chinese analysts consider Trump’s kinky style, with obvious damage to the image of the United States in the world, has returned to China. . Joe Biden, heir to the Obama administration, promises to bring a more cordial relationship with the Asian giant, reducing trade and political tensions, opening up new opportunities for cooperation. In the event of the attack on the White House, the end of American isolationism, a greater propensity for multilateral cooperation, a new framework in relations with Beijing is planned.
Joe Biden is an old acquaintance of Xi Jinping, whom he has deprived of on several occasions, a fact the Democrat took advantage of at the start of his campaign. He proudly claimed that he spent more time with the Chinese leader than with any other world leader. In fact, in 2011, during Obama’s time, Joe Biden and Xi Jinping traveled to Sichuan Province together, where they took the opportunity to exchange ideas on national and international politics. That same year, the Chinese leader was received at Biden’s home in Washington, where they resumed talks, covering various topics of politics, economy and security.
But Joe Biden’s ties to the Chinese world are very old, beginning immediately with his entry into the Nixon era as a senator. It is important to remember that it was in this administration that Washington and Beijing opened direct dialogues and that the US President made his historic trip to China, in what has come to be known as “the week that changed the world.” “. Formal relations between these two countries were (re) established in 1979, and Joe Biden joined in that year an American delegation that would be received at the time by leader Deng Xiaoping. In 1989 he was one of the senators who voted to impose sanctions on China following the Tiananmen crackdown, but in the following decade he became a major supporter of American investment. in the Asian giant. At the time, the Senate was under heavy pressure from lobbyists from many US multinationals to facilitate doing business with China. Then, in 2000, Joe Biden was one of 82 senators who voted in favor of normalizing trade relations with the Asian giant in the post-Tiananmen era, paving the way for China’s entry into the Organization. World Trade Union (WTO), effective in the next year.
Although the focus was on the economy, at the time there was the idea that a China increasingly integrated into the world economy, by international standards, might soon move to a liberal democracy. Economic cooperation has become central – almost exclusive – in bilateral relations, and issues such as human rights have been neglected. While in the past Chinese leaders like Jiang Zemin forced themselves to skillfully bypass surgical human rights measures, in the subsequent direction, it was foreign leaders who began to omit the topic. The primacy of profit straddled everything.
In the context presented, one might think that with Biden, an “old friend of China”, Sino-American relations will return to the golden age of the Bush-Obama administrations. But it will not necessarily be so. Taking advantage of an ancestral adage of the moralist philosopher Confucius, “[e]among frequent friends, censorship takes away friendship ”, which may be an illustration of times to come. The pandemic context of covid-19 has left in American public opinion a negative image of China, which has forced Joe Biden himself to change his rhetoric about this Asian country. Kurt Campbell and Jake Sullivan, respectively political advisers to the Democratic candidate for Asian and national security affairs, have declared the urgency of modifying WTO rules concerning the application of subsidies in state-owned enterprises.
Individual factors will not be enough to substantially deviate US foreign policy from the hard line with China. High strategic interests are at stake and the presumed elected president will have his main obligation to protect
The political legacy of the Obama era itself is not entirely positive for Biden. The lightness of this president in the treatment of certain files with China is now criticized. In fact, according to academic Kerry Brown, some executives of the Chinese political elite viewed Obama as a “weak” leader, permissive in the face of strategic advances from a calculating China. He focused his concerns on the environment when, for example, Beijing had its peripheral expansion strategy called the “nine-line line,” which included the occupation of the South China Sea islands. A difficult factor for stability in the Asia-Pacific region, where the United States has strategic interests. This geographic area is currently experiencing times of great tension.
Even though the news world is focused on Washington-Beijing relations, countries like Australia, Japan, South Korea and India are most concerned about China’s rise to power. Today, the democrat and republican parties, sponsored by public opinion, are aligned with the “Chinese question”, see it as an “authoritarian rival”, which uses predatory business practices. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, 73% of Americans have a negative opinion of China, an indicator that should not be overlooked.
The best of Público by email
Subscribe to newsletters for free and receive the best news and the most in-depth work from Público.
Should the election win, Biden will certainly bring new diplomatic impetus to relations with Beijing, exploring friendship and the experience of long years of contact with China. However, individual factors will not be enough to substantially deviate US foreign policy from a hard line with China. High strategic interests are at stake and the allegedly elected president will have primary protection from him.
Note: the text only binds the opinion of the author
The author writes according to the new spelling agreement