With a new administration taking over in the US, how will China deal with the legacy of hard-line China policies left behind by Donald Trump?
For one, expect Beijing to try deflection. It will talk about being misunderstood and of overriding “common interests” as Foreign Minister Wang Yi did in December 2020, and his deputy Le Yucheng as well as Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan did at the end of January 2021 or to spout vague inanities as “cooperative competition” as former Chinese diplomat Fu Ying did earlier in November in The New York Times. The objective is to sound conciliatory even as China puts forward its interests clearly. For instance, the People’s Daily’s Zhong Sheng column, which during the Trump years did not mince words in attacking the US and its actions, welcomed the Biden administration with a toning down of language and offers of cooperation.
Reports have emerged that China has increased its troop strength along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh breaking its agreement made at the sixth round of talks on 21 September 2020. Earlier in December, videos emerged of Chinese civilian vehicles transgressing into the Demchok area also in Ladakh. Meanwhile, the Indian Army referred to a confrontation last week between Indian and Chinese troops in the wake of a transgression by the latter at Naku La in northern Sikkim, as a “minor face-off”.
Essentially, what we are seeing since the Galwan clash in June 2020, is the steady normalization of confrontations and tensions along the LAC as well as of fruitless bilateral talks. This was predicted.
It is not surprising that American president-elect Joe Biden wants to reverse much of the incumbent Donald Trump’s shambolic and disruptive foreign policies. But on at least one aspect of Trump’s foreign policy – China – Biden should be building on and staying the course.
The only change required is to forego Trump’s propensity to cut deals with the Chinese in favour of short-term gains. Biden can bring in consistency and firmness and be willing to make it costly for China to renege on promises. But there are already at least two Biden moves with implications for China policy that raise some concerns about how well the incoming administration understands China or America’s partners.