The initial reactions in China to the election of Joe Biden as the next US president have been positive but uncertain. The state media and commentators hope for a less controversial relationship between the world’s two greatest powers.
China’s President Xi Jinping has yet to congratulate Mr. Biden, and an official media mouthpiece has yet to comment.
But the state media are already considering what could change.
“Strategic trust has been destroyed, high-level political exchanges have almost completely ceased, and there is no substantial cooperation,” Xin Qiang, US studies expert at Fudan University, told state media.
“But Biden could at least make some breakthroughs on the latter two aspects.”
Comments advertised in China’s heavily censored media environment have taken on a measured tone, and even nationalist writers keep their fire for the domestic audience.
“Analysts are generally unsure whether Biden’s policy toward China will ease or adjust, but at least I think a future Biden administration will remove the performative aspect of Trump’s stance toward China,” wrote Hu Xijin, editor of China jingoist tabloid Global Times.
“China needs to think about its bottom line and prepare for any eventuality,” he wrote, urging Beijing to avoid “provoking” Mr. Trump personally so that his anger does not affect future US-China relations.
But some couldn’t resist.
The Twitter account of People’s Daily – a Communist Party media group – openly trolled Donald Trump.
In a tweet that was later deleted, they mocked President Trump’s claim to victory by writing “haha” along with a laughing emoji.
How will a President Biden work with China?
The Chinese caution towards Mr Biden reflects how little he talked about China during the election campaign.
Foreign policy occupied an unusually low position in the campaign, and when she asked direct questions about the relationship during a debate, Biden Vice President Kamala Harris, the vice president, turned the answer back to domestic questions.
However, Mr Biden stated earlier in his campaign that he would largely continue Donald Trump’s stubborn view of China by calling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping a “thug” and promising to launch an international campaign to “subdue China.” To put pressure, isolate and punish ”.
But on some issues, like Mr Trump’s tariffs for China, Joe Biden has hinted that he could potentially change direction, and aides said he would consult with allies on “collective leverage.”
“Internal debates within America mean Biden must consider Trump’s views on trade as well as Democrats’ views on human rights,” Shi Yinhong, a researcher at Renmin University in Beijing, told ABC.
“If Biden starts trade talks with China it could improve the relationship, but the human rights differences will not change if things get worse.”
While some in the US have suggested that Mr Biden, like his former boss Barack Obama, would seek to work together to fight climate change, many others believe that China’s rise as a competitor will override that.
Xi and Trump’s framework of rivalry between great powers will not change
If the leadership of China has taught anything in the past four years, the US president can hardly influence China domestically.
The American criticism of China’s counter-terrorism internment program for Muslims from ethnic minorities in the far west of Xinjiang and of its political actions in Hong Kong did not deter Xi Jinping.
He recently doubled the detention program and called it “right”.
In Hong Kong, he has ordered officials to ruthlessly stamp out dissent, with activists and journalists increasingly operating under threats of arrest and jail, despite US sanctions.
And Trump’s criticism of China’s early handling of corona viruses has not shaken the heads of state and government in Beijing.
They largely suppressed the virus at home and portrayed the spiraling U.S. pandemic as an affirmation of China’s authoritarian system.
In trade, Mr Trump’s relatively modest tariffs have barely affected Chinese economic growth.
The “Phase 1 Agreement” signed in January obliged China to significantly increase purchases of American agricultural goods to the detriment of Australia and other competing exporters.
China largely retained its various restrictions on foreign companies operating in its massive market, which means that the deep grievances from US firms that waged much of the trade war remain.
For foreign policy in a broader sense, the Trump administration’s actions against Huawei have helped some reluctant European allies phase out the Chinese government subsidized company from 5G networks.
Other measures intended to repel China’s goal of American technology, such as app store bans on the Chinese platforms WeChat and TikTok, have been sunk by US courts and little heeded or supported by the Democrats.
But Joe Biden’s promise to work with allies and his long-standing commitment to organizations that President Trump has belittled, like the World Trade Organization, could make life harder for Beijing.
“Biden, who fights sensibly with 80 percent of the engagement, will cause China a lot more pain than Trump, who is 100 percent stupid,” said Jeffrey Wilson, director of research at the PerthUSAsia Center.
China’s top priority – convincing the US to stop selling arms to neighboring Taiwan so that the Communist Party can gain control or take over politically before 2049 – will not find much sympathy from either side in Washington.
And since Xi Jinping calls for a more general “fight” against the US in search of a “national rejuvenation” of China as a great power, there is only so much change that one side of the relationship can bring.
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