During the 2020 presidential election, healing was Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign theme. In foreign policy, he proposed to abandon the misguided policies of the Trump administration and reestablish American leadership. Over the past four years, the United States has experienced unprecedented party polarization and social fragmentation. In the face of a nation torn apart, can Biden heal the wounds of U.S. foreign policy? And if so, how?
During his campaign, Biden laid out his plan for healing, with his top priorities being the restoration of American democracy, restoring respect for press freedom and adopting a more open and inclusive attitude toward immigrants. He said the U.S. would also need to take a leadership role in the global economy, rejoin multilateral institutions and organizations, lead economic and trade rule-making and reaffirm its commitment to arms control. Biden vowed to repair U.S. alliances, expand U.S. influence by uniting the strength of allies and address shared challenges and threats.
The election results show that the United States is more divided than it was four years ago, and the road to healing that Biden envisions is bound to be thorny. Whether it is the current split in public opinion, the future political power distribution in Congress, the centrist/progressive divide within the Democratic Party or the profound impact of Trump’s political legacy, there will be obstacles to overcome on the road to healing.
One expectation is that the Biden administration’s foreign policy will be adjusted from its current base to rebalance demands coming from all sides. On one hand, Biden will correct the mistakes of the Trump administration and bring foreign policy decisions back to a more cautious and rational course; on the other, he will retain what is good for the United States in Trumpism.
The current divisions in the U.S. are rooted in deeper problems and tensions, and even if Biden were willing to heal all the wounds of U.S. foreign policy during his administration, he would not be able to do it all.
So what will Biden do? First, he will work to improve America’s current international image and increase its influence. For example, the U.S. will rejoin multilateral organizations and agreements from which the Trump administration has withdrawn. Biden has already indicated that the United States will return to the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement. But even if he returns to international mechanisms and emphasizes the importance of multilateralism, the United States is likely to lead from behind.
Second, Biden will work actively to repair the U.S. relationship with allies who have been damaged during the Trump administration, strengthening cooperation and coordination to increase U.S. strength. It can also be expected that the Biden administration’s alliance policy will be similar to that of the Obama administration — requiring allies to take on more defense responsibility to reduce the U.S. burden.
Biden may also attach greater importance to maintaining the stability of U.S. relations with other major powers, and continue to promote a shift in strategic focus toward the Indo-Pacific region. Most members of Biden’s current diplomatic and security team served in the Obama administration and were involved in creating the rebalancing strategy toward the Asia-Pacific.
Therefore, it can be expected that the Biden administration will maintain the overall stability of U.S. relations with other major powers, and place renewed emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region, to strengthen relations with India and other emerging economies while constraining China.
On China policy, Biden will be both hard and soft. Although the Trump administration’s China policy has been criticized, there is a basic consensus in the United States that the U.S. should adopt a posture of strategic competition with China. Under Biden, the tone of China-U.S. relations will continue to be dominated by strategic competition, but its form will be different. During the campaign, Biden made it clear that he wanted to unite allies in pressuring China.
In the economic and trade arena, the Biden administration is unlikely to lift the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. in the short term, and he will work with Europe and Japan to use international rules to pressure China.
Biden stressed the importance of increasing human and financial resources in science and technology, and competing with China through scientific and technological innovation in the U.S. In addition, the partial decoupling of China and the U.S. in the field of high technology will probably continue.
Of course, China should be cautiously optimistic about the U.S. posture under Biden, and it should look for positive impacts on relations. During the Trump administration, the U.S. adopted a confrontational policy toward China, and China-U.S. relations spiraled downward, with the two countries even facing the possibility of conflict triggered by miscalculation.
Unlike Trump, Biden has a wealth of political experience and a steady and cautious style, and his China policy as a whole will tend to be rational and predictable. Under Biden, a gradual return to normal China-U.S. relations is expected. Biden is willing to seek dialogue and cooperation with China in areas where China and the U.S. have common interests. For example, China and the U.S. have had successful experiences in dealing with SARS and Ebola in the past, and under a Biden administration, the two can engage in practical cooperation in the fight against COVID-19.
Biden has announced that the U.S. will return to the Paris climate agreement, so China and the United States can be expected to resume cooperation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change issues. On the issue of nuclear nonproliferation, the two can and should engage in useful cooperation to resolve the nuclear issues of the DPRK and Iran.
On Nov. 25, President Xi Jinping congratulated Biden on his election, and expressed his hope that the two sides would focus on cooperation, control their differences and promote the healthy and stable development of relations.
That is China’s expectation for bilateral relations and is in the interest of both countries.