The biggest foreign policy problem for President-elect Joe Biden in his preparations for taking office in January is China, widely regarded as America’s number one strategic challenge for the next generation.
Biden will be the next president of the United States after beating incumbent President Donald Trump in last week’s elections after days of waiting for a record number of votes to be counted.
As the Trump campaign processes to undermine the result and the president continues his frantic Twitter offensive, Biden and his team are thinking about uniting a polarized nation and facing the many challenges of the White House.
The world watched as voters fought for their America, and governments will now consider how best to overcome four years of Biden rule. The Chinese regime may have sharper eyes for Biden’s moves than most.
There was little difference between Trump’s and Biden’s plans for China.
Both condemned Beijing’s authoritarianism, malicious trade practices and regional expansionism. Both promised voters they would address the threat, although Biden said he would do so alongside America’s allies – a departure from Trump’s unilateral style.
Being tough on China was an important part of both campaigns, especially as the coronavirus pandemic raged through Trump’s administration.
Biden, on the other hand, is part of a political establishment that allowed China to accumulate wealth and power for years in the hope that a globalized capitalist economy would lead to liberalizing political reforms.
Commercialist Western politicians were happy to reap the economic benefits of engagement with China, but they could not foresee-or fortunately ignored-the end result.
Beijing has used its wealth to exert ever-growing power, finance a rapidly modernizing army, conduct cutting-edge technological research and consolidate the authoritarian rule of the CCP.
Now in Washington D.C., both sides are recognizing that China is both a challenge and an opportunity that must be seized.
China will be America’s strategic challenge for decades to come, and by 2020 this conviction, long held behind the scenes by legislators, intelligence agencies and the military, will have become public.
A Biden victory may give some stability to the confrontation, but any American president will have to strike back at Beijing in one way or another for the foreseeable future.
Jacques DeLisle, an expert on Chinese law and politics at the University of Pennsylvania, said on Washington Newsday that the era of “constructive engagement” is over, but “only part of it is trump card”.
By the turn of the millennium, cracks were already beginning to appear in Western politics of “constructive engagement”, whether it was the ambitious hope that China would liberalize or the modest idea that it would engage and respect the U.S.-led, rules-based international order.
DeLisle said: “The roots were China’s lack of progress in complying with the rules – for example, in the World Trade Organization -, China’s growing economic clout, including in sectors that are important to the U.S. economy, such as technology, and signs that China is moving beyond the old ‘hide-and-seek’ approach to international security and politics to pursue a more assertive foreign policy.
“This became clear about a decade ago and the relationship began to move south,” deLisle said, referring to Obama’s commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which supporters said would help contain China and maintain U.S. leadership in the world.
“Certainly the Trump administration has made relations much worse,” deLisle said.
“Some of this can be regained by a return to ‘normal’ US foreign policy under a Biden administration, but the world and relations have changed since about 2000; there is no complete way back”.
Despite all the criticism of Trump’s China strategy, few in Washington would argue that Beijing is not a problem for the US.
“I pay tribute to Trump for facing the reality of China, which has been radicalized under Xi since 2012, and recognizing it as a strategic competitor,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow resident of the Atlantic Council.
“But it’s less so that Trump has been able to change the nature of the relationship between the U