In February, Trump praised Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, saying he was “doing a very good job with a very tough situation” and thanking him for containing the virus. Only after the pandemic spread to the United States did Trump accuse China of covering up the virus and take strong steps against China.
Still, U.S. confrontations under Trump have provoked tit-for-tat responses: China has taken trade measures to hurt U.S. farmers, kicked reporters out of China, and closed the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu. Meanwhile, Communist officials still hold Uighurs in camps and are stripping Hong Kong of its freedoms.
Balding noted the United States does not have the power to change China, and he cautioned against judging Trump policies only by that measure.
“I think fundamentally the United States for the first time said, ‘We are going to impose costs and punishment for Chinese behavior that does not meet the standard of open international actors in today’s world,’” he said.
IF BIDEN WINS THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION in November, the United States’ policy toward China would see a large shift. Biden would focus more on diplomacy and cooperation in areas of mutual interest. As recently as May 2019, Biden said China was “not competition for us,” since it had domestic problems to deal with.
Biden’s remarks about China became more pointed this year: During February’s Democratic presidential campaign debates, Biden called Xi a “thug” for having “a million Uighurs in … concentration camps.” He later called Beijing’s imposition of a repressive national security law on Hong Kong a “death blow to the freedoms and autonomy that set Hong Kong apart from the rest of China.” He said that, as president, he would ban U.S. companies from supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state and impose economic sanctions if Beijing “tries to silence U.S. citizens, companies, and institutions for exercising their First Amendment rights.” He also promised to “take stronger steps to prevent imports from forced labor” in Xinjiang.
Writing in Foreign Affairs, Biden said that if elected, he would work to build up America’s standing in the world through investment in education, infrastructure, technology, and healthcare. He noted the most effective way to challenge China is to “build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abuse behaviors and human rights violations.” At the same time, he plans to cooperate with Beijing on issues such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the pandemic response.
“China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy,” Biden wrote.
Biden has also stressed the need for the United States to lead international organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization. Trump decided to withdraw from the health organization due to Chinese influence, especially after the WHO parroted China’s talking points during the early outbreak of the coronavirus. Biden tweeted he would rejoin the organization on his first day as president and “restore our leadership on the world stage.”