How China might tackle the Biden presidency

U.S. President Joe Biden. File   | Photo Credit: AP

With a new administration taking over in the U.S., how can we expect China to deal with the legacy of hard-line China policies left behind by former President Donald Trump?

One, Beijing may try deflection. It may talk about being misunderstood and of overriding “common interests”, as Foreign Minister Wang Yi did in December, or spout vague inanities such as “cooperative competition”, as former Chinese diplomat Fu Ying did in November 2020 in The New York Times.

Two, since the paramount concerns for American leaders have usually been economic ones – jobs, exports and competitiveness, among other things – there could be a degree of appeasement in the form of limited or selective access for American agricultural produce and private enterprises.

Three, since climate change is a priority for the Democrats – as the appointment of John Kerry as Special Presidential Envoy For Climate suggests – there will be plenty of Chinese ‘concessions’ on this front too. But these will inevitably be linked to American concessions on other fronts potentially driving a wedge between the principal actors in the U.S. national security establishment on China policy.

Four, ideological competition is now a feature of Chinese foreign policy and it will be impossible for the Communist Party to not also attack the U.S. directly for faults both real and imagined. On the eve of the Biden inauguration, the Chinese Foreign Ministry repeated the allegation that the U.S. was the source of the novel coronavirus. The announcement of sanctions against senior Trump administration officials later was another sign of an increasingly no-holds-barred approach to the U.S.

Five, and related, we can expect China to continue to highlight and exaggerate domestic dynamics in the U.S. as a way of explaining away U.S.-China tensions as well as other American problems around the world. The attempt is to showcase China’s own political system in a positive light while criticising American-style democracy as somehow flawed or in decline. As Yuan Peng, head of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, declared, “The United States is sick, China has stabilized, and the world has changed”.

Six, as China has increasingly done in recent years – from New Zealand to Nepal – it will more confidently interfere in U.S. domestic politics. Last year, U.S. officials claimed that China had attempted to interfere in elections.

Seven, China will sustain pressure against American allies and partners everywhere – note, for instance, Beijing’s provocations against Japan in the East China Sea and economic coercion against Australia.

Elsewhere, China’s conclusion of a bilateral investment treaty with the European Union on the eve of the Biden presidency is a classic divide-and-rule tactic against the West. Beijing has been helped along by the unilateralism and walking out of multilateral regimes of the Trump administration, all of which President Joe Biden will be hard pressed to repair.

Finally, China will continue to suborn foreign private enterprises to do its will. The inability of American and other foreign enterprises to acknowledge, let alone take a stand against, the oppression of China’s Uyghur minority should be a concern for the Biden administration as too the reality that most Western and Japanese enterprises remain reluctant to leave China despite their governments asking them to.

Under Mr. Biden, American pressure on China’s domestic political and economic system and on its external policies is not going to be particularly unexpected for the Chinese leadership. But he will also face a China that believes increasingly in taking the fight to the opposition.

Jabin T. Jacob is Associate Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh. He tweets @jabinjacobt

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 4:34:04 AM |

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