US presidential election: China’s unspoken hope is it can work with Joe Biden
- Chinese media coverage of the US election has been muted in part out of concerns Trump administration hawks will sow chaos before leaving office
- While Biden is likely to get tough on issues like technology and human rights, cooperation beckons on climate change and future pandemics
The state media and analysts may have been given a bit more leeway in reporting and commenting on the clashes between protesting Trump and Biden supporters and the boarding up of businesses as fears of unrest spread, with the aim of showing American democracy in decline. But they have apparently been given a gag order preventing them from discussing the election’s political context and its implications for US-China ties for two reasons.
US-China relations: Joe Biden would approach China with more ‘regularity and normality’
At the time of writing, Biden was edging closer to winning the presidency while Trump was threatening to challenge the outcome in court, raising fears of more chaos and uncertainty to come in the days or even weeks ahead.
Even if Biden does indeed secure the presidency, one should not be surprised if China’s state media reports and official reaction continues to be measured and reserved, free from any gloating tone.
That is because there are genuine concerns among officials and analysts in Beijing that the China hawks in the Trump administration may take advantage of the last remaining two months to cook up even more extraordinary measures to worsen ties with China and solidify the damage before they are out of the door in January.
Much has been written in the overseas media that no matter who wins the White House, the next US president is most likely to take a “get tough” on China policy.
That is certainly true, but from Beijing’s perspective a Biden presidency is more likely to put a floor under the current free-fall in relations, judging by his recent remarks on China and those of his foreign policy advisers.
If that is the case, Biden will probably take an overall harder line against China but avoid pushing the two countries to a new cold war.
“I think that the biggest competitor is China,” he said. “And how we handle that will determine whether we are competitors or we end up in a more serious competition relating to force.”
In a comprehensive article laying out his foreign policy vision published in Foreign Affairs magazine this year, Biden flagged a new formula for dealing with China in which he would abandon the “America First” mindset to build a united front with Western allies “to confront China’s abusive behaviours and human rights violations”.
Who is Kamala Harris? Joe Biden’s vice-president pick
Meanwhile, he said the US would also “seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, non-proliferation, and global health security”.
Indeed the importance and urgency of all those global issues would propel the two countries to work together despite their sharp differences on other issues.
Meanwhile, some of Biden’s foreign policy advisers have publicly dismissed as “unrealistic” the suggestion that America can fully decouple from China, even though Biden seeks to reset terms with China on the economy and technology, according to US media reports.
All these developments would bring relief to Chinese officials and businessmen, as they suggest a Biden administration would bring some short-term respite to stabilise relations after more than four years of turmoil under Trump.
Wang Xiangwei is the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper