Former President Trump made China and it's growing power a key point in his election and reelection campaigns, often using China as a scapegoat for many of the world's issues. His successor will certainly not be as hostile towards China, but will a softer, more diplomatic approach be enough to cage the Asian tiger?
A few days ago, a first phone call was made between President Biden and President Xi Jinping. They talked about the global pandemic, human rights and, above all, trade relations and relations between the two countries in general. Biden relies on his relationship with Xi Jinping from his role as vice president in the Obama administration. "I had a lot of private meetings with him when I was vice president," Biden said. "I traveled 17,000 miles with him. I know him pretty well."
The White House said that in the call between presidents, Biden shared his concerns about unfair practices in Beijing, coercive measures and interventions in Hong Kong, and human rights violations in Xinjiang and increasingly frequent interventions in Taiwan. Xi responded to this during the conversation by warning President Biden that the United States should be careful about China's domestic affairs. "In matters relating to Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity, the American side should respect China's main interests and act with caution."
Earlier this year, the Chinese side tested Biden's views on China's territorial integrity. In January 2021, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian explained the increased military activity of the Chinese army near the island of Taiwan at a press conference in Beijing. The People's Liberation Army conducted military activities in the Taiwan canal as a "necessary and rigorous response to the intervention of external forces and the provocation of Taiwanese independence forces.". Did Biden choose the path of his predecessor Donald Trump or is he trying to find a conciliatory solution with China? China is closely following the steps of the new US president. Especially the steps that would lead to closer relations with Taiwan. Trump's government was not afraid of such steps. For example, the Trump administration canceled restrictions for official visits between Taiwanese and US officials and increased arms trade to the island.
Ever since President Biden's inauguration, the contrast between him and Trump has been very sharp. Biden generally plans to lead the United States in a different direction and bring America out of the downturn, where it was brought by the necessary pandemic lockdowns and social divisions on issues of race. That, however, does not mean doing everything different than Trump. One of the few common views between Republicans and Democrats is to stand up to China. According to some experts, Trump did well, and his tough policy against China should, in their view, be viewed as the most constructive legacy of the former administration in international relations. “Unless Biden pursues a similar approach [as Trump], the erosion of U.S. global leadership will become inexorable. ” stated one article in The Japan Times.
The Indo-Pacific region is a key area of global economic and geopolitical interests. For China, the region is of immense strategic importance to reach the South and East China Seas through strong pressure, economic sanctions and aggressive expansion.
One way to maintain a stable balance in the Indo-Pacific region is through democratic order. Under the previous administration, this vision encouraged the region's democratic states to deepen its strategic ties to each other. Under the leadership of the Biden administration, the United States must now build on this progress and ensure stability and balance in the Indo-Pacific region. Biden understands the need to stand up to China, while still maintaining peaceful and co-beneficial relations, but tough policies against China preferred by some in the government could undermine his own vision.