US elections: whether Trump or Biden wins, China policies won’t change much, experts say

US elections: whether Trump or Biden wins, China policies won’t change much, experts say

  • Joe Biden and his Obama-era advisers wouldn’t likely hit a reset button on dealings with Beijing
  • Little trust exists in the US now toward China, and both campaigns recognise the tense new reality

Last week, during a Republican National Convention that featured hours of attacks on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, news broke that Trump administration officials were weighing whether to label China’s human rights abuses against Uygurs and other Muslim ethnic minority groups a genocide.

The Biden campaign’s response to the news, first reported by POLITICO, was swift. And, with just nine weeks left in an all-out campaign against US President Donald Trump that Democrats describe as a battle for the “soul” of the country, it was also unusual:

Not only do we agree, a campaign spokesman retorted, but Joe Biden already said it first.

In an especially divisive and convulsive presidential election campaign season, Americans are focused mainly on domestic issues, including racial justice and a soaring coronavirus death toll.

“China would own our country if Joe Biden got elected,” Trump told the RNC last week, more than once.

The US-China relationship is fraught on many fronts – trade, technology, military, human rights among them. But while Trump and his administration have made clear what policies it will continue to pursue, Biden and his advisers have yet to offer much in the way of specifics about how his dealings with China might be different from Trump’s.

Would a President Biden continue Trump’s tariffs policy? His government ban of Huawei Technologies devices? His sabre-rattling in the South China Seain the face of China’s own increased chest-thumping?

Despite repeated attacks from each candidate tarnishing the other as weak on China, experts said that no matter who wins the election – no matter who the campaigns’ foreign policy advisers are – neither side will likely be eager to hit the reset button on tensions with Beijing once the election is over.

“There’s been a real sea change in sentiments in the United States among both Democrats and Republicans,” said Elizabeth Freund Larus, chairwoman of the political science and international affairs department at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. “I don’t anticipate that we’re going to go back to, say, US-China relations of the 1990s.”

Back then, Washington’s view of US-China relations was defined by a different belief: that US businesses and universities and technology might eventually convince China to open up its economy and political system.

But the candidates and their advisers now all recognise the tense new reality of US-China relations.