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Will there be dramatic changes with Biden's China policy?

《环球时报》 2020-08-31

The first ever four-day online Democratic National Convention ended Thursday with Joe Biden formally accepting the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination and Kamala Harris the vice presidential nomination. Biden currently leads US President Donald Trump in both national and battleground states polls. And people are now wondering what Biden's China policy might be if he wins the election. Will there be dramatically change in the direction and tone of China-US relations? Or will the course be largely kept given the adverse nature and the underlying structure constrains of China-US relations?

First, the "tough on China" rhetoric has become the new "political correctness" in the US politics. No one wants to be seen as "weak on China" and risks losing public support. Throughout the campaign, Biden accused Trump of bluffing and of "weak on China." What sets this year's Democratic Party Platform apart as unique is its gloomy perception of and tough attitudes toward China. And as the platform declared, "Democrats will be clear, strong, and consistent in pushing back where we have profound economic, security, and human rights concerns about the actions of China's government."

Second, the economic rebalancing and partial technological decoupling will possibly continue. While Biden does not agree with the Trump administration's approach to China-US economic relations, especially with the latter's using of tariffs to cope with trade imbalances, he also emphasizes "fair trade." Biden also claims, "Economic security is national security." He has vowed to enforce economic foreign policy for the middle class to safeguard US manufactures and jobs. Moreover, he aims to protect US intellectual property, technology, and supply chain security.

Third, a Biden administration will be even tougher on "human rights" and will possibly form an international "united front" against China. Biden and the Democrats have emphasized the importance of uniting like-minded democracies in dealing with the "China challenge" instead of acting alone or deserting US leadership.

That being said, if Biden wins the election, his China' policy may be different from Trump's in both doctrine and style.

First, while Biden and Democrats have highlighted the "China challenge," they have yet to define this "challenge." On the whole, the Trump administration views China as a "revisionist power" that is the US' "strategic competitor." They think China-US relations are a zero-sum game. By stark contrast, the 2020 Democratic Party Platform believes "the China challenge is not primarily a military one." Instead, it warns against "falling into the trap of a new Cold War." The Democratic Party argues for "pursuing cooperation on issues of mutual interest like climate change and nonproliferation and ensuring that the US-China rivalry does not put global stability at risk."

Second, Biden's China policy will no doubt be "tough" on human rights and safeguard US economic interests. But his approach and style will be quite different. As was mentioned at the 2020 Democratic Party Platform, "Democrats will pursue this strategy without resorting to self-defeating, unilateral tariff wars."

Third, many Democrats are strongly against the Trump administration's approach to policies of bilateral cultural and people-to-people exchanges. These are especially relevant to Chinese students and visiting scholars' visas. They pertain to academic exchanges and cooperation programs. As the 2020 Democratic Party Platform says, "Democrats' approach to China will be guided by America's national interests and draw on the sources of American strength - the openness of our society." This hints at different approaches to bilateral cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

Fourth, China and the US will have an opportunity to cooperate on global issues such as climate change, non-proliferation, and global pandemics.

Biden and the Democrats view climate change as existential challenges. They call for global efforts to combat it. They also call for international cooperation in combating WMD proliferation and global pandemics, which China also has a huge stake in and is willing to cooperate with.

What will Biden's China's policy be like? It's still too early to tell. Only US voters have the last say on the Election Day whether or not Biden will be in power and if China policies change.

The author is professor at the Center for American Studies, Fudan University.

(Source: Global Times)