Despite Joe Biden’s continuation of Donald Trump’s hardline position against China, Chinese analysts believe there is hope for reconciliation with the US after the change of power in Washington.
President Joe Biden’s “rational approach” leaves space for dialogue which was not possible under Trump’s belligerent approach, they believe.
The Donald Trump Era
Trump’s biggest move was the “trade war” between the US and China. In January 2018, he introduced a number of tariff barriers to correct what he called “unfair trade practices and theft of American intellectual property”.
To address the latter, Trump started putting companies on the Commerce Department’s “entity list” if they frequently violate American copyrights and patents in October 2019. These blacklisted Chinese companies, such as Huawei, won’t get access to crucial supplies like semiconductors from American firms.
Politically, Trump undermined the ‘One China’ policy, stating in December 2016, “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘One China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”
Their relations continued to deteriorate throughout his presidency with Trump calling five Chinese state media firms “foreign missions” in February 2020. In response, Beijing cracked down on some American journalists through actions such as revoking their press credentials and even expelling them from China.
Trump also sanctioned many Chinese officials for their coercive actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. In November 2020, he prohibited American investors from investing in firms identified by the US Department of Defense as “Communist Chinese military companies”.
In the last few months of his presidency, Trump signed The Tibetan Policy and Support Act of 2020, which restricts Chinese interference in the appointment of the next Dalai Lama, and declares Chinese treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang as “genocide”.
Trump also signed the Taiwan Assurance Act in December last year which enhanced the defense cooperation between the two states.
Besides, Trump was seen taking the US-China conflict to a level that bordered on racism. Last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic gripped America, Trump started calling it the “Chinese virus”.
Pinning Hope On Jeo Biden
Despite Chinese officials’ hope for rapprochement under Biden, the new president has continued his predecessor’s hostility towards the communist nation.
Biden has not removed the trade barriers. On the other hand, there has been an increase in cooperation between the members of the QUAD, a security grouping between India, Australia, Japan, and the US against Chinese domination in the Indo-Pacific region.
Yet, Chinese analysts hope that a lack of Trump’s style of diplomacy — public confrontations — would enable backchannel talks.
If China and the US are to improve communication, it is best not to arrange public meetings first because they are easily politicized and undermined by domestic politics in both countries, Jia Qingguo, a professor who also serves in the political advisory body of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told the South China Morning Post.
The best alternative is, thus, “track two” talks that create a consensus away from the public eye before bringing in the heads of states to work up from a baseline. Biden does not seem to be favor publicity as much as Trump was prone to.
To mend their ties, an informal contact has been established through the Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, who visited China mid-April, before Biden’s Climate Summit.
While Biden has kept a firm position on China, he has allowed some concessions, such as the easing of restrictions on student visas.
He also uses the word “competitor” rather than “enemy” to describe China, unlike Trump, which according to Jia, leaves space for cooperation and not just confrontation.
Biden has even reached out to Russia for talks to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine despite also calling Putin a “killer.” This shows that he is open to dialogue with those he considers his “opponents.”