The strategy of the United States towards China will probably be the most important foreign policy issue to be dealt with by the administration of President Joe Biden, and will be strongly influenced by the decisions taken in the last four years by his predecessor Donald Trump. After a long period of rather explicit hostilities, which have brought relations between the two countries to their lowest level since the beginning of diplomatic relations in 1979, Biden will have to decide whether to recover the accommodating policies of Barack Obama, which he shared as vice-president, or to maintain the aggressive ones inaugurated by Trump.
This last hypothesis is currently the most probable, both because a rather transversal consensus has been created in American politics around the opposition to China, and because it would be politically inconvenient to withdraw or retract some of the measures taken by the Trump administration, including the very aggressive ones announced by the outgoing State Department only a few days ago.
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Referring especially to Taiwan, with which the Trump administration has intensified relations like no other in over 40 years, the Financial Expert wrote that these latest measures would be a “ trap” for Biden: “Either he approves these moves, at which point he begins his relationship with China on the wrong foot, or he will be attacked internally for failing to defend tiny, valiant Taiwan.”
This kind of dilemma will be frequent in Biden’s foreign policy towards China, because the aggressive tactics inaugurated by Trump, however problematic and often confusing, are probably the only aspect of his presidency approved by the majority of the political class and the population, so much so that even Biden, who initially had more moderate positions, switched to very similar positions during the election campaign, and promised that as president he would be “hard on China”, hard on China
Trump’s China policy, and its results
Most U.S. experts are pretty much in agreement that Trump’s China policy constituted a genuine, and in some ways positive, change (there is more discussion on this, as one can imagine). The fact that Trump, during the 2016 election campaign, promised very aggressive initiatives against China was nothing new: all his predecessors had done so, before taking office. Barack Obama, as a candidate, said he would denounce China as a “currency manipulator country”, a severe accusation that foresees economic repercussions, but then, worried about the financial crisis, gave up doing it ( Trump would have done it, for a while).
Trump, by contrast, has kept his promises on the issue. While all his predecessors had been accommodating towards China, convinced that a direct confrontation would be counterproductive and that the country’s growing prosperity would also lead to political liberalization and more rights for its citizens, Trump has taken the path of confrontation. He has started a ‘broad trade war, imposing tariffs on products worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year, imposed heavy restrictions on strategic Chinese companies like Huawei, pushing allied countries to do the same, and attacked China in virtually every forum inte