China and the U.S. election

08:47 by Hubert Fromlet, Kalmar

During my many visits to China I used to get the impression that the Chinese mostly looked at the U.S. with mixed feelings – feelings that also included some kind of admiration. The American dream of developing from a poor origin to a wealthy person attracted many Chinese on micro levels. Some kind of capitalist socialism or vice versa was born in the 1990s.

Politically, China and the U.S. kept quite some distance in the new millennium all the same. Tensions continued during Bill Clinton’s presidency but his support for China’s entry into the WTO in 2001 was appreciated. This move turned out to be the main driver for China’s rise to become the largest economy in the world (in terms of total GDP and PPP), together with the simultaneously ongoing globalization. President Obama’s relations to China had a number of ups and downs as well. President Trump, finally, could be increasingly regarded as an opponent to China during the past four years.

In 1997, professor David Shambaugh wrote in Current History (September) that “China and the United States are likely to be the dominant world powers in the twenty-first century. It is imperative that these two continental giants learn to live and work together productively and cooperatively”. Altogether, the conclusion above on the two leading world powers turned out to be right – but the recommendation of working together did not really come true, particularly not in the past four years. Biden could make some difference – but probably not in a significant manner.

The Trump years of 2017-2021 – and now?

President Trumps leitmotiv of “America first” did quite some harm to China, the global economy and also to the U.S. itself, particularly due to the revival of protectionism. This is certainly a bad development. But what do the Chinese themselves feel about today’s election?

Despite many unfriendly words from the Trump-administration, the Chinese support Trump’s aversion or doubts against traditional allies such as NATO and his attempt to weaken American (Western) democracy. Chinese media also take the chance of describing the superiority of its authoritarian system, exemplified by what the official China calls the victory against the covid-19 crisis. China remains the top issue for the Chinese and certainly not the U.S. The result of the presidential election in the U.S. does not make a major difference – neither to President Xi Jinping or the Chinese people (according to my own understanding of Chinese press). However, there is no clearly visible preference for Biden either.

Competition with the U.S. will remain the keyword for the future of China – when it comes to the economy, technology, research and military power. However, in my view three possible and necessary changes may happen in the future with a President Biden: a (somewhat) stronger priority of  the environment, a (somewhat) better political predictability and a more polite style of communication between the two superpowers.

And we should not give up hope for better cooperation!

Hubert Fromlet
Affiliate Professor at the School of Business and Economics, Linnaeus University
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