Biden and Beijing: Torn between competition and cooperation
by Emanuele Scimia

Tensions between the two countries will remain, but managed by prioritizing diplomacy. Competition in trade, technology and security; collaboration on climate, Covid-19 and nuclear proliferation. The Taiwan problem. Critical observers: Biden will re-propose Obama's "warmongering" policies.

Rome (AsiaNews) – An easing in tension without a substantial change in US policies, or at most, on a few specific issues. This is what is expected in the United States and China with respect to relations between the two superpowers after the inauguration of new president Joe Biden in January.

Disagreements between the two countries will remain on aspects such as trade, technological innovation and security in East Asia. The expectation is that they will be "managed" by prioritizing diplomacy rather than "muscular" attacks on Twitter, as was the case with the incumbent President Donald Trump.

US companies in China believe Biden will try to protect their interests while avoid a complete rupture. A survey published on November 20 by the US Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai reveals that 53.2% of the companies contacted do not expect to change their plans; 13.7% say they are ready to make more investments and only 5.6% said they want to reduce risk.

This year the Trump administration, and even Congress in Washington, announced plans to incentivize US companies to leave China and return to their homeland or relocate to other countries - a policy that has never convinced US investors in the Asian giant.

China will have to take into account that even if Trump's tariff war hasn't reduced Washington's trade deficit, the tech one has got Huawei in trouble. According to TrendForce, the Chinese tech giant - a leader in the development of 5G internet systems - is destined to lose its foothold as the world's top smartphone seller. The analysis site based in Shenzhen and Taipei calculates that due to the US sanctions, Huawei's market share in the sector will dip from 14% now to 4% next year.

Chinese analysts maintain that Beijing is aware that relations with Washington cannot be traced back to the pre-Trump era. Democrats and Republicans in Congress want to continue ranking up the pressure, not only on trade, but also on respect for human rights condition in mainland China and Hong Kong's autonomy.

Yesterday, former Chinese deputy foreign minister Fu Ying wrote in the New York Times  that the goal of the two powers should be to achieve "competitive cooperation", which will avert the danger of an armed conflict.

There is no shortage of points on which to collaborate: from the climate to the fight against the pandemic, the commitment to nuclear non-proliferation (the case of North Korea is emblematic) and the stabilization of the many "failed" countries (Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Venezuela) which represent a threat to the world order.

This may be part of Biden's vision of China, which he considers a "strategic competitor" with which the US must dialogue. This approach is not unlike that adopted by the European Union, which refers to Beijing as a "systemic rival", to be opposed above all for its unfair commercial practices.

Many observers believe that the Taiwan question could be the most problematic geopolitical dossier. Beijing sees Taipei as a rebel province. During the Trump administration, the island managed to raise its international profile, thanks also to its successes in managing the coronavirus pandemic.

Quoted by Focus Taiwan, Douglas Paal, US charge d'affaires in Taipei, argues that Biden will try to rebuild Washington's alliance system, and that the island’s positive standing in the international community will be an asset that the new president cannot afford to renounce.

Like Paal, most commentators are convinced that with Biden the United States will abandon Trump's America First doctrine to resume a global leadership role. It would be a return to normal after the "erratic" management of the New York tycoon, with dictatorships and autocracies such as China, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia that have occupied the geopolitical void left by Washington.

Appointments such as Antony Blinken to the Department of State make some observers fear that the Biden presidency will be reduced to a restoration of Barack Obama's policies, which they certainly do not consider "pacifist". They point out that despite his promises to reduce the country's war effort, the former US president kept troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, committed them in Syria and Libya, and supported the Saudi campaign against the Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen.