As US ushers in Biden era, China advised to contact president-elect’s team to restore talks

By GT staff reporters Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/24 20:58:29

May begin with cooperation on climate change, reducing tariffs

Joe Biden. Photo: AFP

The US is entering the Joe Biden era as the formal transition process began after being authorized by the General Service Administration, and after Biden nominating top foreign policy and national security officials. 

Chinese experts said China could start contacting Biden's team and restore bilateral communication channels. A good start would be cooperation on climate change and discussion on reducing tariff barriers.  

Analysts said the Biden administration with familiar faces to China will bring a more professional, rational and pragmatic approach to the future China-US ties than the Trump administration. 

Although the Biden administration may not consider China a complete enemy, Chinese analysts warned that a change in US president will not change the US view of China as its strategic competitor, and the Biden administration may seek alliances to contain China's influence in Europe, Asia and the South China Sea. 

Biden's top foreign policy and national security picks include Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Antony Blinken as the next secretary of state, Linda Thomas-Greenfield as US ambassador to the United Nations, and Jake Sullivan as national security adviser, CNN reported. 

Biden's cabinet picks are likely to take a more rational and pragmatic approach toward China, given their past experience in handling foreign affairs, Chinese observers noted. Despite the changing geopolitical environment, these veteran US officials are expected to return to conventional Democratic approaches to foreign affairs, which will be much more predictable, some observers said.

Blinken and Sullivan are more concerned about alliance than about the China policy, seeing alliance as a foreign policy priority for the next four years. They tend to see China as a "strategic competitor" rather than an "all-out enemy," Da Wei, director of the Center for Strategic and International Security Studies of the University of International Relations in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Li Haidong, a professor with the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, called the Biden team a group of "elites" and very "predictable" in foreign policy with a multilateral mind-set that will help restore US leadership and strengthen connections with allies. This is unlike Trump's approach, which combines people with little experience, and extremists who deeply believe in protectionism and nationalism.

However, Sun Chenghao, a research fellow at the Institute of America Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, noted that while those who will serve under Biden are familiar faces, it doesn't mean a return to the Obama approach. 

"Times have changed. Facing the diplomatic legacy left by Trump, the old faces are likely to strike a balance between 'Trumpism' and a return to the Obama era. 'Anti-China' is still a strong rhetoric in the US Congress," Sun told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The familiar faces in the Biden administration will not eradicate the core issues on China, as the US sees China as a "strategic competitor with cooperation strength," Sun noted, especially on sensitive issues such as the South China Sea, Taiwan, and human rights. 

After the letter from the General Services Administration was announced, Donald Trump affirmed in a tweet the decision to start the transition.

Trump's tweet indicated that there was no doubt Biden would take over, and also hinted that countries like China and Russia could start contacting the Biden team, analysts said. 

Contact between China and the Biden administration could begin with cooperation on climate change and discussion on reducing trade barriers, Chinese analysts said. 

An expert on American studies who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Tuesday that China may make some goodwill gestures to Trump, such as welcoming him to visit China after he leaves office, to avoid more extreme China policies in the last two months. 

Resume bilateral communications 

As the official transition was announced, calls for restoring previous communication channels suspended under the Trump presidency emerged from both China and the US, including pandemic cooperation, people exchanges and military talks. 

Chinese observers expressed hopes that talks between the two governments would resume, consulates would be reopened, and normal communications between students, academics and journalists would be allowed. They believe that timely communications will prevent China-US ties from suffering further.

"Cooperation between China and the US, especially under the WHO framework, would be a good start, such as regular talks among scientists and on the distribution of vaccines," Sun said.

"It's time to make official contacts with the Biden administration as early as possible," Li said, noting that "while the new president mulls his foreign policy, timely contacts will help win back a stable and coordinated China-US relationship." 

Since the letter from the GSA was announced, Li said China now can consider congratulating Biden from a higher level of government after the Foreign Ministry spokesperson extended congratulations to Biden and Kamala Harris in mid-November. Li said congratulations from the Foreign Minister or a State Councilor may be considered. 

However, on a letter of congratulations from Chinese top leaders, some Chinese experts said it may not be sent until an official confirmation is made in December, and some said the possibility cannot be fully ruled out, but the congratulatory letter will be sent based on good communication from the relevant teams of the two countries.

Some American scholars also expected the reopened communication channels between the two countries. 

Graham T. Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview recently that he expects to see a significant increase in the competence of American diplomats dealing with China at the embassy in Beijing and in Washington, reviving serious conversations at all levels between the US and Chinese governments, returning American staff to the Beijing office of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention whom Trump withdrew, and demonstrating a readiness to have journalists from the US and China return to each other's countries.

The Biden administration will also reconsider Trump's tariffs that had harmed American consumers and producers, Allison said. 

Douglas Paal, distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace of the US, told the Global Times in a recent interview that there may be opportunities for the Biden administration to work with China on climate change and COVID-19. 

Headache over domestic woes 

Chinese and US analysts believe that Biden administration's first priorities are going to be domestic affairs, such as fighting the COVID-19, restoring the economy, dealing with racial injustice and climate change. 

However, even traditional elites of the Democrats are unlikely to solve their domestic woes of deep polarization, social and economic injustice and inequality, Chinese analysts said. 

Yuan Zheng, a senior fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday that it will be very hard for the Biden administration, considering Biden's age and previous practice of Democrats to come up with revolutionary policies to significantly improve those issues during Biden's four-year term. 

Biden will also be hampered by "legacies" of the Trump administration when making policies, such as deep political polarization, Yuan said. 

Newspaper headline: China eyes talks with Biden team

Posted in: DIPLOMACY

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