That the Chinese leadership hasn’t congratulated the U.S. president-elect doesn’t mean it favors Trump.
China Is Cautious to Congratulate Biden
Four days after the U.S. presidential election was called for challenger Joe Biden, China still hasn’t phoned to congratulate the president-elect. Its delay is matched by a few other autocratic states, such as Russia, but most democracies and some other key U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia have called Biden despite President Donald Trump’s continued denial that he lost.
Beijing’s response doesn’t indicate favoritism for Trump. If there is an ongoing power struggle between two factions, China doesn’t want to take a side. And with the ruling party denying the election result, the president attempting to declare a false victory, and the government conducting a purge of the Defense Department and the intelligence services, that’s not an unreasonable assumption on Beijing’s part.
If Trump’s refusal to concede were happening in another country, the United States might make the same assessment. It is only confidence in U.S. institutional democracy and the continued rule of law that suggests otherwise—something the Chinese leadership doesn’t share. This view is influenced by the experience of politics at home, where rubber-stamped votes mean nothing compared with behind-the-scenes contention. (State-run social media has more openly mocked Trump, however.)
Some analysts have worried that China will take aggressive moves thanks to the distraction in the United States, but I don’t think that’s likely. A crumbling United States, from Beijing’s point of view, is an unpredictable one. While Chinese diplomats are happy to shore up their relations with other countries as their U.S. counterparts face domestic chaos, radical moves are unlikely.