As United States President-elect Joe Biden faces an ugly, potentially contested transition, foreign policy may be the last thing on his mind.
But in capitals around the world, foreign leaders are already clamoring for his attention, hoping to reset relationships and restore norms that shifted under President Donald Trump.
Nowhere will there be greater opportunity for a shift than in the US-China relationship, which has deteriorated to historic lows during Trump’s term in office. Over the past four years, both sides have slapped the other with trade tariffs, restricted access for tech companies, journalists and diplomats, shuttered consulates, and squared off militarily in the South China Sea.
Analysts in both countries are still debating whether Biden will embrace Trump’s more punitive policies towards China or move to reset relations between Washington and Beijing.
Even in Chinese state-run media, there are signs the ruling Communist Party is holding its breath, unsure of which direction the new administration will take.
“China should not harbor any illusions that Biden’s election will ease or bring a reversal to China-US relations, nor should it weaken its belief in improving bilateral ties. US competition with China and its guard against China will only intensify,” state-run tabloid Global Times said in an editorial Sunday.
As yet, no official policy statements on China have been released by the Biden transition team. Biden, though, is no foreign policy novice. During his almost five decades in national politics, Biden has repeatedly brushed up against China. As a senator, he played a role in China becoming a member of the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Analysts are now looking back over past statements and more recent comments made on the campaign trail for insight into how Biden will approach what might be his most pressing foreign policy challenge.
Relations with Beijing
During the Obama administration, in which Biden served as vice president from 2009 to 2017, relations with Beijing were assigned a high degree of importance, stemming in part from China’s new status as the world’s second-largest economy.
Though China was gaining strength both economically and militarily, diplomacy during this period was guided for the most part by attempts at cooperation, rather than confrontation. Major disputes were mostly contained, and centered on security issues, such as China’s military buildup in the South China Sea and cyber espionage.
According to Obama, the relationship between two countries would shape the 21st century, and therefore stable relations were critical not only for the US, but for the world at large.
Biden traveled to Beijing on numerous occasions during efforts to gain Chinese support for a number of key Obama policie