After Trump took office, U.S.-China relations have experienced a downward spiral for nearly four years. Many argue that the root cause of the downward spiral in U.S.-China relations is the change in the international power structure, i.e., the rapid growth of China's relative power has led to a change in the U.S. perception of the threat to China, which has led the U.S. to adjust its relations with China with a competitive major power mindset. In other words, the deterioration of Sino-US relations has its deep-seated inevitability, and regardless of the outcome of the 2020 US elections, Sino-US relations will not be good.
In this conclusion, the author does not fully agree. In the future, although the general background of the power contrast between China and the United States will not change, the perception of the White House and the mode of decision-making on China can be transformed by changing the president and his decision-making camp, thus making the bilateral relationship develop better than under Trump. In fact, judging from the views on China policy put forward by Biden during his campaign and the content of his China policy conveyed by his policy team, it is possible to build a China-U.S. relationship that manages differences, limits conflicts, selective cooperation and overall stability if Biden is elected.
The Biden administration's China policy team would be relatively diverse and rational, different from the purely hawkish undertones of Trump's team
Judging from the China-related remarks already made by Biden and his team, they are generally more moderate than the Trump side. As for the fundamentals of U.S.-China relations, most members of Biden's team (such as Blinken, Ratner, Rice, Campbell, Burns, Sullivan, Ben Rhodes and others, mostly Obama-era "veterans") believe that it is not the "Cold War" and that China is not the Soviet Union of the past. The 2020 Democratic Party platform also argues that China and the United States must avoid falling into a Cold War "trap" ("trap"). The U.S. should consider the U.S.-China relationship from the perspective of maintaining global peace and stability. This is a clear difference from the Trump team's strategy of "containing China" or even directly attacking the Chinese political system.
As for the U.S.-China trade and economic relations, Biden also believes that China has taken advantage of the United States and thus needs to make adjustments. But he does not agree with Trump's approach. In his campaign speech, Biden criticized Trump's lack of strategic planning and lack of consideration of the consequences of his trade war with China, which has brought huge losses to American workers and farmers.
And the Democratic Party platform also hinted that it would take steps to amend Trump's tariff policy on China. In their view, although trade protectionism has brought policy respite to some industries hit by globalization (such as steel and traditional manufacturing) and blue-collar workers, it is not in the overall interest of the U.S. More industrial groups in the U.S. still benefit from free trade, including U.S.-China trade, such as the U.S. chip industry, which exports $70 billion in chip products to China each year. Therefore, the Biden administration may cancel some of the tariffs imposed by Trump on China under "Section 301" and even partially restore the status of "ballast" in the US-China economic and trade relations.
In terms of humanistic exchanges between China and the U.S., Biden and his team believe that an open society is the root of America's strength, and the Democratic Party platform specifically mentions the significance of young people for the future development of democracy. At present, U.S.-China humanities exchanges, especially in the field of science and technology, have almost come to a standstill; after Biden takes office, it is likely that he will ask the Department of Justice to continue to monitor and restrict U.S.-China science and technology exchanges, but for exchange projects in the fields of public health, culture and education, and youth on both sides, they may be given the green light to do so.
On global issues, Biden's team has placed more emphasis on environmental issues, and in fact active leadership and participation in global climate governance has become one of the core issues in his foreign policy agenda. If Biden returns to the Paris Agreement and introduces policies related to climate change, then China's cooperation and cooperation is essential. In addition, in the context of the rapid development of emerging technology industries, the Biden administration will certainly seek to lead and set global rules and norms in the field of emerging technologies, such as 5G communication security norms and ethical rules for genetic engineering, in which there is room for cooperation between China and the United States.
In short, a relatively pluralistic and rational policy team can at least prevent the Biden administration from repeating the extreme pattern of Trump's decision-making on China, if not reversing the general trend of U.S.-China competition.
On the worldview level, Biden and his team uphold the traditional post-war liberal internationalist line
In the view of Trump and his realist policy advisors, it is the tradition of liberal internationalism that has caused the "decline" of the United States, and if the United States wants to be "great" again, it must return to nationalism. If the United States wants to be "great" again, it must return to the nationalist principle of national interest and the pursuit of maximum power and profit. Such a world view is projected on China policy, forming a set of power logic: China tries to take advantage of the decline of the United States to dominate the world and overwhelm the United States in the competition for power, and the United States, in order to maintain its long-term interests and power position, must make the suppression of China its strategic focus, and the United States' global strategy should serve to contain and suppress China as the strategic focus.
Biden and his team believe that there is nothing wrong with the tradition of liberal internationalism, which is the source of America's strength and will continue to be strong, and that the United States must continue to adhere to free markets, democratic ideas and alliances; for the current problems of liberal internationalism, the United States needs to take the initiative to repair and adjust, rather than completely reject. Such a world view is projected onto China policy, forming a different mindset from Trump's "extreme pressure": in the face of the growing "Chinese threat," the United States should actively respond by leading the construction of new global institutions and rules, and not give China the opportunity to lead. But in some cases, China can be given the opportunity to participate in U.S.-led mechanisms. In other words, the United States can respond to the Chinese threat and ensure continued U.S. power and leadership by adjusting and repairing its liberal internationalist strategy accordingly.
Under the strategic framework of liberal internationalism, China policy is only one part of Biden's global foreign policy, and the United States can either choose to cooperate with China on certain issues in order to achieve its global policy goals or to use its global advantage against China on certain issues in order to achieve its policy goals with China. Its decisions on China will be more complex and multifaceted, rather than the Trump administration's focus on containing China as its primary national strategic objective.
Biden's China policy is relatively less influenced by U.S. campaign politics
Over the past few years, trade pressure on China to reach U.S.-seeking trade deals has taken up a major part of Trump's China policy, which is inseparable from Trump's approach to consolidate his base from the beginning of his administration and strictly deliver on his campaign promises to seek re-election. Unlike Trump, Biden's blue-collar workers, especially those who have lost their jobs because of free trade, have less influence on his popularity, and accordingly, his political drive to maintain blue-collar workers' support for him through a trade war with China is much less strong than Trump's.
In terms of trade policy with China, the Biden administration will take into account the demands of different interest groups, including those supporting U.S.-China trade, such as the agricultural lobby, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Retail Federation, thus making its policies generally moderate. Trump, on the other hand, has close ties with protectionist interest groups (e.g., steel business representative Dimiko is a member of his campaign team), and his trade policy with China is basically formulated to cater to the political demands of this group as well as blue-collar workers. In the unprecedented scale of the U.S.-China trade war, Trump has basically not considered the demands of interest groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the retail industry and farmers.
Biden and his team are more open, tolerant and empathetic in their personalities and styles as decision makers, and more willing to make appropriate compromises in negotiations, quite different from Trump's team, which believes in "extreme pressure"
Trump, both personally and with conservative members, such as Meadows and Pompeo from the "Tea Party," tend to view U.S.-China relations from a "good vs. evil" dichotomy, believing that the Chinese side should be held "fully responsible" for any problems. "They do not believe that dialogue can lead to a strategic understanding with China, nor do they believe that humanistic exchanges between China and the U.S. have any meaning. The policy advisors around Biden are mostly liberal intellectuals who believe in the significance of mechanism building, strategic dialogue and selective cooperation, and are at least willing to engage in strategic dialogue with China, or even to make some degree of "mutually beneficial" efforts. At a time when the structural contradictions between the U.S. and China are very obvious, this could be significant in managing differences and preventing the relationship from continuing to deteriorate.
In short, as a more traditional political figure, Biden is more likely to balance his unfriendly China-related rhetoric during the campaign with his well-balanced China policy practice after taking office, more likely to consider a variety of issues affecting U.S.-China relations, more likely to balance the interests of U.S. trade liberals and protectionists, and more likely to comprehensively assess the different policy proposals made by his presidential advisors. These would make Biden's China policy not single-issue and full of extreme measures, but relatively balanced and predictable.