Trump or Biden: Who is Best for China?
"The Trump administration's unilateralism, right-wing populism and tendency towards principled realist foreign policy would...reduce to a certain extent the external strategic pressure faced by China"
As the likelihood of a Trump-Biden rematch strengthens, Chinese scholars have begun to weigh up the pros and cons for China of having either of the two men back in power. Today’s author, Wang Hao (王浩), provides a crisp account of these benefits and drawbacks, yet refrains from expressing a clear preference for either of the two presidential candidates. Many thanks to him and to the editors of Global China (海外看世界) for granting Sinification permission to share this article.
On a side note, I will be in Beijing and Shanghai from Thursday 22 February until Wednesday 6 March. As always, it would be a pleasure to meet up with those of you who might be around then.
What a second Biden term might mean for China:
More “stability” for US-China relations.
Greater “flexibility” in the US’s China policy: more opportunities for both sides to engage and cooperate.
The “maturing” of Washington's containment strategy towards Beijing, which would have a greater impact on China’s economic and technological development.
The continued strengthening of the US alliance system and its increasingly negative impact on the PRC.
What a second Trump term might mean for China:
Trump’s “unilateralism”, “right-wing populism” and interest-based foreign policy would hurt the US’s existing alliances, partnerships and role in multilateral organisations, thus reducing the international pressures currently facing Beijing and providing it with “more space” to exert its own influence around the world.
Short-termism under Trump would weaken the US’s current long-term containment strategy against China.
A lesser emphasis on values might allow Washington and Beijing to maintain stability through the “trade-off of interests”.
Short-term instability in relations: much that has been achieved recently would have to be rebuilt. “Shocks” (冲击) are also to be expected.
A new Trump administration would be set on proving its anti-China credentials.
US-China cooperation on major global issues would decrease and would no longer be able to act as a strong hedge against US-China tensions.
Economic and military rivalry might increase.
Name: Wang Hao (王浩)
Position: Associate professor, Center for American Studies, Fudan University
Research focus: US domestic politics; US foreign policy; US-China relations
Education: BA Renmin University of China (2011); MA Renmin University of China (2013); PhD Renmin University of China (2016)
Experience abroad: Visiting scholar at Columbia University (2014-2015)
Joe Biden: Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America (source: Joe Biden); User:TDKR Chicago 101 (clipping) Donald Trump: Shealah Craighead (source: White House) Сombination: krassotkin, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
BIDEN AND TRUMP'S CHINA POLICIES
Wang Hao (王浩)
Source: Global China (海外看世界) on 3 February 2024
Translation reviewed and approved by the author
The general tone [总基调] of America’s policy towards China will not change after the 2024 US election, regardless of whether the Democrats or the Republicans are in power. The specific policies of the two parties towards China will nevertheless differ, thus presenting different opportunities and challenges both to China's policy towards the United States and to its foreign policy in general.
Biden in Power: Advantages and Disadvantages
The impact on China if Biden were to be re-elected would consist of ‘two advantages and two disadvantages’ [两利两不利].
As far as the ‘two advantages’ are concerned:
First, the continuity [延续性] of the US’s policy towards China would be strengthened. This would be conducive to both sides forming relatively stable expectations [of their relationship with one another], thus maintaining the overall stability of US-China ties and [allowing for a] better implementation of the ‘San Francisco Vision’ [agreed upon] by both heads of state. There would [also] be no need to face the risks that might arise from the period of adaptation [that follows] a change of government.
Second, the Biden administration would be entering its second term in office and might [therefore] show more flexibility in its policy towards China. History has shown that when a US president enters his second term in office, he tends to pursue more flexible policies in foreign affairs because he is then free from campaign pressures, less constrained by domestic politics and [eager to] leave behind a legacy in this domain. For this reason, our country would have more room to shape the US’s China policy during a second term of the Biden administration. For instance, [it could] improve the general climate surrounding America’s policies towards China by means of more practical cooperation and exchanges [更多务实合作和对话交流].
Regarding the ‘two disadvantages’:
First, compared with the Trump administration’s China policy, the biggest difference in the Biden administration's own policy towards China during its first term has been an attempt to build a general framework for the US’s long-term competition with China. [In so doing,] it has promoted the deepening of US competition with China through a set of measures relating to trade, science, technology, security and ideology. Therefore, if the Biden administration were to be re-elected, the US’s system of long-term competition with China would become more mature. In particular, if the restructuring of global industrial and supply chains were to continue or even accelerate during Biden’s second term, this may have a greater impact on the external environment facing Chinese scientific and technological innovation and the country’s economic development.
Second, the most notable diplomatic achievement of the Biden administration so far has been the improvement of the US’s relations with its allies and partners and its attempt to build a multi-layered system of alliance networks that go beyond security. [If continued,] this would have an adverse effect on China's external strategic environment. [Furthermore,] if the Biden administration were to be re-elected, the race to win over ‘third parties’ [‘第三方’; i.e. other actors] in the diplomatic arena would intensify further.
Trump in Power: Advantages and Disadvantages
The negative and positive impacts of a Republican Trump administration would by and large be opposite to those of the Democratic Party.
First, on the negative side:
US-China relations would inevitably face a period of maladjustment [不适应期] after the Republicans come to power. Existing communication channels and mechanisms would need to be rebuilt and previous achievements and areas of consensus would face shocks and uncertainties [冲击和变数].
Second, the new government would inevitably be affected by domestic politics, especially partisan struggles and would thus adopt a tougher stance on China after coming to power.
Third, the right-wing populism and conservatism of the Trump administration would be more pronounced. The rivalry between China and the United States in the economic and security fields would become more complex. Thus, finding ways to maintain dialogue with the US and avoid strategic misjudgements would become extremely important.
Further, US-China cooperation in global governance, including on climate change, would probably take quite a big hit, which would not be conducive to creating a hedge against competition.
Next, on the positive side:
The Trump administration's unilateralism, right-wing populism and tendency towards principled realist foreign policy would put the relationship between the United States and its allies and partners under renewed pressure. Already existing cooperation mechanisms and frameworks as well as the international multilateral organisations that the US returned to under Biden might be impacted again, thus reducing to a certain extent the external strategic pressure faced by China and giving it more space to win over ‘third parties’ [‘第三方’] and the international strategic ‘middle zone’ [‘中间地带’].
In addition to this, the Republican Party’s approach to foreign policy, especially the Trump administration’s, which tends to focus on short-term practical interests, is not conducive to building a medium- to long-term strategic framework aimed at suppressing [遏压] China.
The pressure exerted on our country in the ideological field would be smaller compared with that exerted by the Democrats. This would be helpful to China’s using the trade-off of interests [利益交换] in its competition with Washington, [when] striving for the stability of Sino-US relations.