With the upcoming presidential election less than 50 days away, many have begun to speculate how the outcome will influence the future of China-U.S. relations. As a key global economic power, U.S. candidates have placed China at the forefront of foreign policy for decades; neither President Trump nor Democratic nominee Joe Biden have plans to halt this discussion. With that in mind, all eyes will be on both candidates as they share foreign policy strategies on how to properly address China as a partner or a rival.
So far, President Trump has maintained his hard stance against China – increasing confrontation at almost every turn as his administration works to curb its economic rise. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, President Trump has firmly stated that “aggressive action” is necessary in order to protect American jobs and reduce the U.S.’ bilateral trade deficit, further recognizing that the coronavirus is one in a plethora of areas where the U.S. should hold China accountable.
The president’s firm hand with China covers a wide array of topics, from applying tariffs that the World Trade Organization recently labeled as a violation of global trade rules, to condemning the country’s “Made in China 2025” industrial policy that seeks to advance China’s technology sector. Unrelentingly, President Trump recently announced the end of Hong Kong’s preferential economic status after the emergence of the national security law in the city, signing legislation issuing sanctions on CCP officials and financial institutions involved in implementing the security law.
Technology is Trump’s newest target, as the ban on Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok and messaging app WeChat went into effect on September 20. As the president mulls increased restrictions on major Chinese technology firms operating in the U.S. which is likely to include action against telecommunications company Huawei, national security concerns involving China will most likely be included in President Trump’s foreign policy plan if re-elected.
Across the aisle, Joe Biden has reportedly taken a similar tough stance on China and has come out publicly stating China’s “rise” is a serious challenge by criticizing its trade practices and warning it may pull ahead of the U.S. in its new technologies. The former vice president argues he would mount a more effective pushback against China than President Trump by working more closely with U.S. allies to pressure Beijing. Further, Biden has reportedly pledged to revitalize the U.S. as a Pacific power by strengthening its naval presence in the Asia-Pacific region while simultaneously deepening ties with countries including Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Indonesia to demonstrate explicitly that it “won’t back down.”
A stark contrast to President Trump, Biden’s campaign website clearly states that a centerpiece of his foreign policy will address the global climate crisis. This would involve influencing China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon, to “stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing their pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars of dirty fossil-fuel energy projects through their Belt and Road Initiative.” How the Biden administration, if elected, will specifically address this remains to be seen.
Though both candidates have clearly stated they would take an aggressive stance toward China if elected, how their approaches will differ in regards to addressing its development will offer insight into the future of China-U.S. relations. With President Trump moving toward a complete “decoupling” approach that brings businesses back to the U.S. and attempts to isolate China from its economic dealings, Biden, as a longtime supporter of trade liberalization, recognizes that a complete decoupling would only harm both countries economically. As the presidential debates approach, Trump and Biden will go head-to-head on whose China approach is best. Will there be areas where the China-U.S. partnership can be strengthened? Can one of these candidates foster cooperation between the two countries? Only time and a more detailed foreign policy plan will tell.