What Biden Has Said on Major U.S. Flashpoints With China
Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, speaks during the U.S. presidential debate in Nashville, U.S. (Photographer: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg)

What Biden Has Said on Major U.S. Flashpoints With China

While Joe Biden has spent much of the campaign criticizing U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies toward China, his own platform sounds more like a change of tactics than a strategy overhaul.

The former vice president -- a long-time member of a foreign policy establishment that advocated engagement with Beijing -- has shifted along with the rest of Washington toward a more confrontational tone during Trump’s term, denouncing Xi Jinping as a “thug.” Still, the Democratic nominee has faced few questions about how he would handle China more effectively than his Republican opponent.

What Biden has said so far points to a more multilateral approach that places greater emphasis on alliances and human rights and is less reliant on tariffs and arms sales. Here’s where he stands on some of the biggest flash points between the world’s two largest economies:

What Biden Has Said on Major U.S. Flashpoints With China

Trade, Tariffs

Biden has mocked Trump’s January trade deal with Xi as “hollow” and blamed the president’s tariffs for accelerating the decline in American manufacturing. But he hasn’t committed to either scrapping the pact or withdrawing the tariffs -- two key sources of leverage over China for the next administration.

“I will use tariffs when they are needed, but the difference between me and Trump is that I will have a strategy -- a plan -- to use those tariffs to win, not just to fake toughness.” -- Biden, in statement to United Steelworkers in May

Biden has pitched a $400 billion “Buy American” plan to direct government purchases toward domestically made goods. He has also pledged to “unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices” -- something China’s critics in places like Brussels and Tokyo complained wasn’t possible under Trump’s “America First” policies.

A major question is whether Biden will seek to rejoin the Pacific trade pact many China hawks viewed as the best way to counter Beijing’s economic might before Trump withdrew from it as one of his first official actions. Biden supported the deal -- now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership -- as part of former President Barack Obama’s administration, but said during a Democratic primary debate last year that he would insist on renegotiating “pieces” of the pact.

TikTok, Huawei

Biden has similarly promised a more global approach to countering the influence of Chinese technology companies such as Huawei Technologies Co. and TikTok-owner ByteDance Ltd. He acknowledged “genuine concern” about how TikTok handles data from its some 100 million American users, while faulting Trump for trying to make money off a deal to secure U.S. control over the social media network’s local business.

“God only knows what they’re doing with information they’re picking up off of here. So as president, I will go into it very deeply I’ll get the cyber-experts in with me to give me what is the best solution to deal with it.” -- Biden, during campaign stop in Duluth, Minnesota, in September

Biden said in February that he supported a ban on using Huawei equipment in the U.S., although he’s said little about whether he would continue the Trump administration’s “Clean Network” program to convince allies to swear off Huawei products in critical communications networks. He has said he would work with “fellow democracies” to develop global rules on cybertheft, data privacy and artificial intelligence.

The former vice president pledged greater focus on issues such as intellectual property theft that took a back seat to agricultural purchases in Trump’s “phase one” trade deal. He has promised new sanctions against Chinese firms that steal U.S. technology and threatened to cut them off from accessing the U.S. market and financial system.

Rights, Sanctions

Although the Trump administration has brought increased attention to China’s human rights practices, those efforts have often been undercut by reports of the president’s praise for Xi’s hard-line approach. Biden has vowed a more consistent message from the White House.

“I will put values back at the center of our foreign policy, including how we approach the U.S.-China relationship.” -- Biden, in a campaign statement in August

He has vowed to “fully enforce” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act signed by Trump last year and meet with exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, if elected. Biden has labeled China’s mass detention and re-education program for the Xinjiang region’s predominately Muslim Uighur minority as “genocide” and called for an international effort to make a united stand against the campaign.

The Democratic nominee said he would convene a “Summit for Democracy” to reach new commitments to fight corruption and authoritarianism and advance human rights. That would include pressing technology companies to make pledges to “ensure their algorithms and platforms are not empowering the surveillance state, facilitating repression in China and elsewhere.”

Defense, Taiwan

As vice president, Biden was an advocate for Obama’s “pivot” to Asia. However, he’s unlikely to replace Trump’s “Indo-Pacific Strategy,” which focuses on drawing India into a broader coalition of democracies to help offset China’s regional weight.

Rather, Biden might seek to play down the military component of U.S. engagement in Asia, which under Trump has prioritized arms sales. The party platform approved during Democratic National Convention called for countering China “without resorting to self-defeating, unilateral tariff wars or falling into the trap of a new Cold War.”

“Democrats are committed to the Taiwan Relations Act and will continue to support a peaceful resolution of cross-strait issues consistent with the wishes and best interests of the people of Taiwan,” Democratic Party, in platform released in August

It’s unclear how Biden would approach Taiwan, whose president, Tsai Ing-wen, has received unprecedented support from Washington as Trump ramped up his attacks on China. While Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party has more in common with Biden’s left-leaning coalition on trade, environmental and social issues, the presidential contender has for decades advocated the “strategic ambiguity” sought to minimize the risk of a direct conflict with China over Taiwan.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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