Source:Top News Today Published: 2020-11-09
The already elected president of the United States, Joseph Biden, will not be able to wait for his inauguration on January 20 to face some conflicts. During the almost three months of transition ahead, he will have to devote much of his attention to one of the thorniest issues in US foreign policy: the relationship with China, its strategic rival. The second largest economy in the world, with a government strengthened by its success in the fight against the pandemic, is already planning its roadmap to be stronger and stronger and reach 2035 —in 15 years — as a diplomatic and economic power.
So far, and like governments like Russia or Mexico, Beijing has been elusive when it comes to congratulating the next president. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said only that "we understand that the outcome of the US elections will be determined in accordance with national laws and procedures." He also stressed that "we hope that the next US Administration shows a willingness to conciliate" and bilateral relations can be channeled.
Despite its apparent reluctance to speak, China has followed the US electoral process with great interest. Its result depended on whether the strong wear and tear in bilateral relations experienced during the last two years of the Donald Trump Administration would continue or whether a period of greater calm would begin.
Not that I foresee big swings on the bottom line. Nor does it seem willing to make major concessions on its part – Wang has warned that Beijing will continue to defend "its sovereignty, its security and its development" – nor does it foresee fundamental changes of position in Washington. Chinese leaders have long come to the conclusion that the United States is a decaying power, weakened by internal divisions. The long process of electoral scrutiny, criticism of Trump and a result that highlights the deep schism between Democrats and Republicans has only corroborated that impression: "The 2020 elections reflect the rapid decline and political decline of the United States", was the headline of a newspaper platform Global Times, from a nationalist editorial line, last week.
In the eyes of Beijing, that very weakness causes Washington, regardless of who is in charge, to feel threatened by the rise of China and to try to stop it in any way. Despite the change in the White House, “the policy of containing China will not change. The United States cannot accept the idea of becoming number two, ”says Professor Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute for International Studies, senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China(RDCY).
The Xi Jinping government does anticipate changes in ways that facilitate coexistence. Biden is an old acquaintance of the Chinese authorities, who took good care in cultivating his ties with Xi during the years they were both vice presidents of their respective countries (2009-2013).
The new president may bring "more predictability and stability to relations," says Professor Shi Yinhong, an expert on China-US relations at Renmin University, who foresees an imminent barrage of telephone contacts and visits between the two governments to " turn around the diplomatic decoupling of recent months ”.
The new Democratic administration may lead, in Shi's opinion, to a renegotiation of the first phase of the agreement that suspended the trade war between the two countries last January, and that forces China to increase its purchases of American products. The collaboration of the two countries could also be recovered on issues of global concern, such as the fight against terrorism or climate change. Although "in practice, the results will be modest," he admits.
Because attitudes have changed during Trump's four-year term. In Congress, skepticism toward Beijing is already a matter for Republicans and Democrats alike. Biden himself has strengthened his position throughout the campaign and promises to be "tough" towards China on issues such as Taiwan, its "unfair" business practices or respect for human rights.
Public opinion has also radicalized their mutual perception: 74% of Americans have a low opinion of the Asian colossus, according to the Pew Center; In China, the index that values the United States favorably fell from 5.77 (on a scale of 1 to 10) in June 2019 to 4.77 in May 2020, according to a survey by the University of San Diego.
China has also taken note of the enormous support that Trump has shown despite his defeat, winning 71 million votes. Although Biden has prevailed this time, in four or eight years – Beijing calculates – another candidate with a Trumpist profile may well arrive at the White House who begins a new stage of hostility.
These prospects, accelerated by the trade war and the tensions of the past two years, have only added urgency to the already existing plans of the Government of President Xi Jinping to turn the country into a pioneering superpower in technological innovation, with an Army of first class and leader of the international community. Plans that are your absolute priority and that you do not intend to alter, no matter what happens.
The plenary session of the communist leadership ten days ago made it clear. The long-term objectives are accelerating: doubling the GDP per capita with respect to the level of 2020, a goal in principle set for 2049 – the anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic – is brought forward to 2035, an achievement that will force growth of almost 5% annually. The next five-year plan (2021-2025) will emphasize the development of the domestic market, to try to shield the economy from possible turbulence as a result of the rivalry with the United States and the trend towards deglobalization. Innovation and technological self-sufficiency will become a "strategic pillar" of development.
"Our country has (in the next 15 years) unique political, institutional, development and opportunity advantages," Xi assured in his speech to the plenary, with which he underlined the conviction of the leaders that they have chosen the right path.
In any case, China promises that the dreaded decoupling will not occur, or only partially in areas such as high technology. "The decoupling does not work," said the former mayor of the Chinese megalopolis of Chongqing and current economic researcher for the Chinese Government, Huang Qifan, who estimates that a complete separation would cost four million jobs and one billion euros. . "We need to collaborate with European, Asian and American high-tech firms," he said. “That is still an important direction. Eliminating collaboration due to current problems and decoupling does not make sense, nor can it happen ”.
Fear of an international front
One change China fears is that the United States will re-approach during Biden's tenure the allies it distanced itself from during the Trump administration. The president-elect, in the opinion of Professor Shi, will want to "repair his country's alliance with the EU and the Asia-Pacific countries, leading or promoting a broad front against China in the West."
It is a prospect that this country wants to avoid at all costs. It has sent its foreign officials in September to Europe, and in October to the countries of Southeast Asia, with the express mission of strengthening ties with those nations and preventing these blocs from getting closer to Washington during the new administration.
In his diplomatic seduction offensive – and aware of the blow that the pandemic has dealt to his international image – he wants to present himself as a responsible global actor with leadership capacity. In addition to its promises that it will provide its covid vaccines to the rest of the world, in September was added the announcement by President Xi Jinping at the UN: China will reach carbon neutrality by 2060. In October, both Japan and South Korea followed the example and promised similar targets for 2050.
Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China(RDCY).
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On July 9th 2020, China Public Diplomacy Association, Peking University and Renmin University of China co-hosted "Mutual Respect, Mutual Trust and Cooperation —— The Right Way Forward for China-U.S. Relations" China-US Think Tanks Media Forum. The State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attended the meeting and delivered the keynote speech. Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China (RDCY) is one of the main organizers of this foruma.