On China, Biden is far (from) right

Trevor Gulock, Senior Writer

As a product of mounting polarization between Democrats and Republicans after the 2020 Presidential Election, U.S. President Joe Biden has presented himself as an antithesis to Trump on issues both political and procedural. From publicly expressing support for LGBTQIA+ freedoms – in direct contrast to the position of the previous administration – to showing support for college debt relief, Biden was no doubt elected to reduce the foreign and domestic policy frictions occasioned by controversial former president Donald Trump. In many ways Biden’s foreign policy has conformed to these expectations –  that is, except for China. 

The United States’s political relationship with the People’s Republic of China has yet to thaw, especially with the latter’s status as the possible “origin” of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Moreover, both Biden and former President Trump have voiced frustration over delayed reporting and containment of the spread by the superpower, in contravention of CDC and WHO guidelines. These factors have left the American relationship with China on rather uncertain ground. A sizable contingent of Americans hold enduring negative sentiments towards China, and Asian hate crimes have increased precipitously over the course of 2020–2021; one attack was reported as recently as last week in Northern Texas. Additionally, some 71 percent of Republicans and and 69 percent of Democrats have reported that they currently hold “somewhat cold” or “very cold” feelings toward China. But is it either moral (given China’s debilitating experience with coronavirus) or economically savvy to pull back from Chinese engagement?

Other policy factors — from China’s current human rights infringements against the Uyghur people, often blatant disregard of intellectual property and leaning on the unethical use of surveillance and censorship — keep China’s global reputation consistently low. In the United States, these factors have led many lawmakers and citizens to suggest cutting economic ties with the country, even if it hurts our nation’s economy. A steady trickle of news about Uyghur interment camps in the western Xinjiang region, and the Chinese government’s refusal to acknowledge this internment, also remain a top reservation for Americans regarding Chinese-American relations. Republicans have long supported a more hawkish economic and political posture on the superpower, including increasing existing (and introducing new) tariffs on Chinese imports; Democrats have largely assented to this policy, while encouraging some limited constructive accommodation. With Biden largely continuing Trump’s aggressive posture towards China, it is no longer a question of whether United States–Chinese economic relations will deteriorate, but how far?

The Chinese government’s troubled response to COVID was further hampered by a series of chronic power outages afflicting the nation’s people. Goldman Sachs has substantially decreased their forecast of China’s economic growth for the fiscal year 2021, even as other nations flourish with the removal of stay-at-home orders. Nonetheless, while this leverage over the country may sound appealing to political realists, economic coercive diplomacy with China may not be in our best interest, especially considering their role as the highest holder of U.S. trade securities (i.e. our debt). Economic warfare with China could only serve to heighten tensions and create more opportunities for hate crimes at home. Both would ultimately reduce the pride I hear in being called an American. In order to avoid this, we can no longer conceptualize China as simply an enemy to be ignored, chastised and vilified. Instead, we should utilize constructive diplomacy to promote multilateral human rights causes like the release of Uyghur Muslims.

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