The 20th of January formally marks the beginning of Biden’s administration, which many experts depict as a turning point for the United States and a clear-cut with Trump’s isolationism in the international arena.
Biden first steps are promising: right after receiving his official assignment, he re-joined the Paris agreement, a clear sign of America’s will to take on global governance. However, the path for recovering from the past administration is still long. Many are the problems he must deal with. He will need to strengthen alliances with long-standing western partners and, most importantly, find a sustainable line of conduct in dealing with China.
The US and China cannot survive but together: climate change.
According to many political analysts, Biden’s foreign policy towards China is likely to be more conciliatory than Trump’s, although no one expects a return to Obama’s reconciliatory administration, based on concessions and dialogues.
The new bilateral relations are likely to include both elements of cooperation and competition while shifting battleground. An example is well represented by Biden’s will to re-join the Paris Agreement, making the fight against climate change one of his major priorities. Such a shift manifests the US commitment to get back on track and take on global governance leadership.
Indeed, the next climate summit on Earth Day on the 22nd of April will provide a good opportunity for both Biden and Xi to improve relations and make concrete commitments at the summit. In the last Davos summit, China put forward its goal of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, a promise that will require hard work from Beijing. Nonetheless, the US should bear in mind that China still belongs to the list of developing countries. Therefore it might not be able to accomplish its promises to cut emissions, thus worsening the relations.
However, if shared responsibilities and major achievements on this matter are expected, America must support and work in close cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, being both the US and China the principal responsible for global emissions. If both countries are to work together on climate change, not only we could witness improvements on the matter, but also the Sino-US relations would benefit from it. Yet, cooperating towards a common goal might represent the central element of stability in Washington and Beijing’s relationship, providing a real opportunity to reduce the tensions inherited from the Trumpian era.
The US and China cannot survive but together: the global economic recession.
Enhanced cooperation between Beijing and Washington is needed to overcome the global economic recession. Joint efforts should re-establish a globalised economy rather than enhance the isolationist system resulting from the last few years of administration.
On this respect, it is worth noting that a more cooperative relation would benefit both domestic and global markets. China is the only country whose GDP grew by 1.8% in 2020, compared to the US -3.7% and the Euro area -7.5. And the role of Beijing will be even more critical in the upcoming year, as the OECD estimates that its GDP growth will hit 8%, thus surpassing the US in becoming the world’s leading economy. However, a broader global growth would be restored thanks to a continued strong economic rebound in China and Biden’s policy support in the US economy.
Economic cooperation would revamp both eastern and western economies, paving the way to a spur in investments, in opposition to Trump’s administration era. Of course, this will reverse the current conditions than we have experienced up to now. More jobs and enhanced globalisation would benefit people the most. If both would follow a path of bilateral and multilateral cooperation, both the first and the second world’s largest economies, i.e. China and the US, would be the torchbearers who pave the way for economic restoration. This goal would require both countries to cooperate at different levels, while “abandoning ideological prejudice and jointly follow a path of peaceful coexistence, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation”.
Simultaneously, at a bilateral level, the lessening of bans and sanctions would favour the recovery of both actors’ domestic economies, with the terms of the US-China phase one deal ultimately carried out.
Biden and his team will be crucial to reverse Trump’s isolationism and restore diplomatic ties with China.
However, there are still many fronts for confrontation to consider when it comes to China and the United States. If signs of opening are to be found on climate change and economy, yet, there is a long way before the two superpowers can peacefully engage.
Hotspots are the South China Sea, Taiwan and Hong Kong, areas of concern for China that have attracted critiques from western countries in recent years. China sees the US as an outsider interfering in a region where it sees itself as a force for peace and stability and the recent developments concerning the US aircraft carrier entering the South China Sea do not leave space for hopes.
At least for now, the new president approach would not be much different from that of Trump. Therefore, it is thus questionable the future of the Sino-US relations. If on the one side, both the US State secretary Blinken and Xi Jinping have called for multilateralism, it is clear that the actions of both actors do not reflect their theoretical intentions.