China sees chaos as its trump card, stability as its bid – but no end to the conflict with both.


President Donald Trump’s term in office coincided with the rear end of a strategic shift towards confrontation with China; a trend that has been going on for years and has been publicly recognized at least since Obama’s “turning point to Asia”.

In Washington, D.C., there is cross-party recognition that China is America’s next major strategic threat, and much of the foreign policy of the incoming administration will be focused on undermining Beijing and maintaining American hegemony.

The Trump administration has been hard on China by launching a far-reaching trade war, confronting Beijing in territorial hot spots, repressing human rights abuses, and taking over Chinese diplomatic, corporate and technological influence in the U.S. and abroad.

All of this is exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic that Trump wants – and needs – to place on Beijing in light of his government’s unpopular handling of the crisis.

China is both Trump’s excuse and his strongest foreign policy line of attack against Biden, who he claims is selling the US to Beijing.

There is not much daylight between the two candidates in relation to China, although Trump’s strategy is likely to be more obviously aggressive and one-sided than Biden’s.

“I suspect that many are torn in the Chinese leadership,” Robert Manning, a senior fellow resident of the Atlantic Council, told

“On the one hand, Trump’s withdrawal from international organizations, the dismantling of the U.S. allies, was a gift to Xi.

“Trump’s trade policy has backfired as Chinese exports to the U.S. have increased, the trade deficit has not decreased significantly, and U.S. capital is flowing into China’s more open financial markets.

China predicted much of this to happen in 2016, said Jacques deLisle, an expert in Chinese law and politics at the University of Pennsylvania, who said “some in China – particularly the more hawkish, nationalistic and perhaps overconfident elements – tend to see a second Trump period as a good thing.

But all this came at a cost. Manning said: “The relentless fight against China, the crusade against Huawei and, by extension, Chinese technology and the downward spiral of an American-Chinese relationship in free fall are dangerous.

DeLisle added: “Biden’s advantage is predictability and stability; his disadvantage for China is that he could be much more effective – more regular and competent in policy-making, more disciplined in implementation and better able to work with allies to put pressure on China.

“The downside of the trump card is the chaos and rhetoric of the Cold War; the upside is that it is not very effective – it is unpredictable, superficial when it takes unfavorable positions on issues that matter to China, and it alienates allies and potential allies.

The director of the National Center for Counterintelligence and Security, William Evanina, said in August that Beijing would probably prefer that Trump not win the election because it considers the president “unpredictable.

Manning said that the bottom line is that China may prefer Biden “because it considers him fact-based.

“And while the broad consensus against China’s economic and military failures wouldn’t change much, Biden would likely go on to undermine relations and define what ‘strategic competitor’ means and what doesn’t,” Manning said.

The pacification of the economic and technological warfare of the trump years – and the GOP’s threat to achieve a broad “decoupling” with Beijing – will be at the top of China’s list of priorities.

So will the U.S.’s continued support for Taiwan – which China has vowed to absorb by force if necessary – and the tensions in the South China Sea, which is touted as the most likely place for a military confrontation between the U.S. and China.

“The deepening hostility on both sides and the race to the bottom reinforces the fear of drifting towards a military confrontation,” Manning said. “Xi and the CCP are trying to stabilize a redefined, more distant relationship.

DeLisle said this “sharpening of the Cold War-like ideological tone in the great-power competition between the United States and China” was a cause for concern within the CCP.

The Chinese “tend to be pragmatic, not overly personalizing the relationship and knowing that they have to deal with the next president for at least four years,” Manning said.

“While they will tailor their responses, their perception of the winning candidate, they have no illusions that this will lead to major political changes, at least in the short term.


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