China-U.S. Relations: Where is it going?

By Irina Jiang

Image Credit: Orissa Post

Every year, 360,000 students from China pay to attend higher education in the United States in hopes of a better future. However, with the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, the concept of schooling has shifted. Now, international students from China are being asked to log onto Zoom at 2 a.m to attend their required lectures. During the summer of 2020, I received countless texts from friends living in Shanghai who were stressing about the tumultuous relations between China and the United States and are concerned about how it might impact their ability to pursue their education. However, the concern over Chinese-American relations is bigger than just education. Businesses, military, social media, and human rights are also impacted as a result of Chinese-American relations. The tense relationship has caused huge loss and inconvenience for both countries, and peace between the two countries is now a wish for many who see the 2020 Presidential election as a chance to relieve some tension, especially if Joe Biden wins the campaign. 

“If I don’t win the election, China will own the United States,”

said the President of the United States, Donald Trump, in an interview. Whether he was exaggerating the circumstances or trying to win the election by spreading a sense of crisis, China and the U.S. have been under such extreme tension for years that many are beginning to suspect a call for a military war between the two nations. Looking back at the timeline, China and U.S. disagreements have been focused mainly on these six factors: “unfair” laws imposed on Hongkong, increased Chinese military force in East Asia Sea (which is a shared territory not belonging to any country), the outbreak of COVID-19, “unfair” trades with the U.S., technology theft, and Muslim camps in XinJiang. According to the U.S. presidential debate, interviews, and analysis of past approaches, both of the two candidates, Biden and Trump, come with their own problems to relieve the China-U.S. tension if elected. 

Donald Trump’s presidency can be best described as controversial, and when it comes to China-U.S. relations, he is usually seen as the main catalyst. Trump has imposed tough policies on China, such as setting high tariffs on Chinese imports, accusing the Chinese government on violating human rights codes, publicly blaming the Chinese for starting the pandemic, deporting Chinese students with military links, banning the social media platform TikTok, and closing China’s consulate in Houston. If Trump continues his presidency, he is likely to persist with the current “tough on China” approach as he continues to see China as one of the U.S.’s opponents in his 2020 election campaign. More specifically, he’s going to “protect the U.S.” by passing the Hongkong Human Rights Democratic Act, which gives the U.S. more control over Hongkong policies to help it towards independence. He is also going to keep the tariff high on Chinese imports and encourage more American manufacturing. According to reports, as a result of the China-U.S. trade war, U.S. imports from China have fallen a sharp $53 billion while U.S. exports to China are down $14.5 billion. Responses from China have been equally troubling. On top of its declining economy, China has closed the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and has given multiple warnings to the U.S. to stop its interference with China’s domestic issues. In conclusion, if Trump is re-elected as the president, the China-U.S. relationship is going to stay unchanged, or get worse, for his plan to interfere with the China-Hongkong issue would further restrict China’s economy and he will continue viewing China as a threat. The outcome would depend on China’s response.

Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the former vice president of the Obama Administration. He served as the United States Senator for Delaware from 1973 to 2009. Biden was a long time member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and eventually became the Chairman. Biden holds a similar view with Trump in regards to China: he believes that China is a threat to the U.S. by restricting the U.S.’s national manufacturing. He also believes that China should be sanctioned for building Muslim camps in XinJiang. However, unlike Trump, Biden views China as “negotiable” and believes that the U.S. can work with China on some global issues like climate change.

Taking on a more friendly approach to foreign policy, Biden is planning to reduce tariffs on Chinese imports while, at the same time, will work with other U.S. allies to impose sanctions on the Chinese government for their violation of human rights.This strategy will help rebuild the United States relationships with its other allies which had been harmed under Trump’s administration. Compared to Trump, who focuses mainly on the economy, Biden will focus on human rights and multilateralism. However, that being said, if Biden wins the 2020 Presidential elections, relations with China will still remain unpredictable. Although Biden may take a more friendly approach to economic foreign relations by ending the trade war, he still plans on interfering with China’s domestic issues and could potentially draw other countries to intervene as well. At the same time, since Biden values equity and aims to eradicate discrimination, the tension caused by Trump’s blame on China for spreading COVID-19 might be lessened. In conclusion, similar to Trump, if Biden wins the 2020 re-election, he might relieve the tension with China regarding the economy but fortify the tension sanctioning Xinjiang’s camps and advocating Hongkong’s independence against the Chinese government’s wish, which again puts China-U.S. relation at uncertainty. 

According to a recent poll, 73% of U.S. citizens view China negatively, and the percentage is the highest America has seen in 15 years. No matter who wins the election, the majority of U.S. citizens may want to see a “tough on China” policy. How the 2020 Presidential election will influence the China-U.S. relationship remains unpredictable.

Coming from a Chinese background myself, I understand the growing concerns between U.S.- China relations. While nuanced and complex, I think both presidential candidates must emphasize communication and respect over economics. When it comes to foreign relations, nations must be open, cooperative and understanding. At the end of the day, it is not nations that must face the consequence, but the people. If Biden or Trump hope to ease the tension, the only way to progress is to prioritize protecting people and that can only be done by tackling these issues with respect and collaboration.

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