Democrats and Republicans in the United States agree that China is a rival global power and a potential threat to the United States. During the election campaign, Donald Trump and Joe Biden competed with each other on the question of who is toughest against China.
Biden, as Barack Obama’s vice president, was still in favour of rapprochement with China, but has since changed his mind. He called Chinese president Xi Jinping a “crook” and criticised Trump’s trade war with China on several occasions for being ineffective and not protecting the American economy.
“Democrats and Republicans broadly agree on China,” says Heather Conley from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Biden knows that everything he does against China from the Republican side soon gets blamed for being inadequate.
If the new government wants to act as strongly against China as president Trump, then the international approach of Biden, together with traditional allies, could be more effective than Trump’s solistic approach, which also scoffed at close allies.
The Biden mulitilateral approach is similar to the European approach to trade disputes with China, where problems are negotiated within international organizations such as the World Trade Organisation and the G20.
This would mean that the EU and the US together would be a much greater counterweight to China’s growing economic influence than if the United States acted alone.
“My impression is that the attitude of the American government in regard to China is not going to change,” said the former european commissioner Ferdinando Nelli Ferrucci, now head of the Italian think-tank Istituto Affari Internazionali.
“What is likely to change is the way the struggle is conducted.”
”I believe that the Biden administration will involve the European allies in China’s approach and will formulate a new strategy without surprises, dictates, ultimatums and blackmail,” says Ferrucci.
So does Jim O’neill of the British think tank Chatham House. He told CNBC last week that he thinks China feels more threatened by a government led by Biden than by the Trump government, despite Trump’s continued hostility to Beijing.
”I think the Chinese are more concerned about a Biden government than about Trump,” said O’neill. “The Government of Biden will use international organizations such as the World Trade Organisation, the G20 and the World Bank to force China to comply with the standards of those organizations.”
There are already signs that the mulilateral approach to Biden can work. A leaked draft proposal from the European Commission, recognized by the Financial Times, calls for a new EU-US cooperation to provide a strategic response “to the threat of China’s increasing assertiveness.”