China would be wrong to think Joe Biden is a soft touch

Joe Biden’s China policy will be more structured compared to President Donald Trump’s scattergun approach. Photo: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Joe Biden has been accused of being soft on China. But Beijing will quickly find out that the Democratic Party’s presidential hope has a hard edge when it comes to foreign policy.

The 77-year-old former vice-president in Barak Obama’s administration delivered a broad brushstroke speech when he accepted the nomination to run for the White House at a virtual Democratic National Convention earlier this week.

He talked about “human rights” and warned that the “days of cozying up to dictators is over,” a reference he appeared to aim at President Donald Trump. 

He also vowed that the United States would “stand with our allies.”

Yet not once did he mention China and the Sino-American New Cold War although it bubbled just beneath the surface.

Presidential election

With just 75 days to go until the presidential election, Biden has a clear lead over Trump. But obviously, that could change dramatically in the weeks ahead.

What will not, will be his structured approach to China, unlike the White House’s scattergun strategy.

“China is one area of consensus between Biden and Trump. Democrats in general agree with Trump’s hard-line policy toward what he considers ‘unfair’ Chinese trade policies, lack of market access and intellectual property protections,” Klaus W Larres, of the University of North Carolina, wrote in a commentary for the academic website, The Conversation.

“On the campaign trail, Biden has been highly critical of China’s assertive territorial behavior in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan, and condemned its repression of Hong Kong and the much-abused Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang,” he said.

“Still, analysts predict he would seek more professional and constructive relations with China than the Trump White House. [He] knows Xi and has worked with him before,” Larres added.

Biden’s Beijing blueprint to tackle Chinese President Xi Jinping’s more assertive Communist Party government will center on human rights issues, the crackdown in Hong Kong, a rising naval presence in the South China Sea, and the CCP’s state-backed economic model.

Democratic allies

But it will also include building a collation of democratic allies such as the European Union, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and Japan.  

“Biden’s China policy is, in part, the handiwork of a Peter Navarro-like China hawk named Jake Sullivan, a former Clinton national security advisor,” Forbes, the US business magazine, reported

“Sullivan believes that China is ‘gearing up to contest America’s global leadership’ and that those signs are ‘unmistakable, and they are ubiquitous,’” it said.

For Xi’s suffocating regime of state-controlled media and heavily-censored internet blocked off by the Great Firewall, it will produce a different set of risk factors.

“With the background of the US-China great-power competition, Biden’s efforts to rebuild US alliances and strengthen America’s global leadership position also suggest some risks and challenges for China,” Gao Wenbo, of the South China University of Technology in Guangzhou, wrote in an essay.

It could also mean an iron first in a red velvet glove backed up by a coalition of the willing.