How will Sino-US relations turn out under Joe Biden? | Pakistan Today

How will Sino-US relations turn out under Joe Biden?

  • No one should expect Biden to be a revolutionary

US President Donald Trump, hopefully outgoing, was not an out-and-out failure for his electorate. Yet he was shown the door.

He had many feathers for his cap. Wages among the poorest quarter of workers rose by 4.7 per cent a year, small-business confidence attained a 30-year pinnacle. By restricting immigration and outsourcing, he sliced back jobs for his natives. He blocked China at every step to pander to the sentiments of the China-bashing lobby.

His faux pas was desecration of American values of decency, tolerance, truthfulness and honesty. Without proof, he declared his adversary Biden corrupt. He viewed the protests against the killing of a black, George Floyd, `an orgy of looting and left wing violence’. He saw `left’ all around, even around ballot-counting staff. 

He saw a cheat around. Pfizer with tardy vaccine-trial success announcement, the WHO chief by not naming `China virus’, and so on.

Mr. Trump was viscerally predisposed to viewing China as a looming military threat to peripheral countries in general, and the USA in particular. True, Mr. Biden is also viewed as an America Firster. True, China has been the fastest growing economy since 1979. Yet, it is nowhere near surpassing the USA even on gross Domestic Product, as is obvious from history: China has gone from $843,097 million in 1977 to $14.4 trillion in 2019, while the USA went from $3.87 trillion to $21,44 trillion.

If nothing else, the new president is expected to restore an element of decency to the White House

China trails behind the USA in terms of expenditure on its defence forces and possession of actual military equipment. Despite ongoing modernization, China earns approximately $5 billion in arms exports, far below US exports of about $46.5 billion. China\s sales are about 3 percent of global sales while the USA’s are about 79 percent.

Joseph Biden belongs to the `America Firster’ School that China can’t replace the USA as number-one, even if it tries to. After visiting China, Biden wrote ‘the United States has nothing  to fear from China since it is far ahead of China in size of the economy, per capita income, scientific innovation, and educational excellence among other indicators’

The US has over 8,000 operational and inactive nuclear warheads as against China’s 240, mostly non- deployed.  The US has 2,000 nuclear weapons with strategic/intercontinental range compared with China’s 20. The USA has 16 ballistic missile submarines compared with China’s one, and more than 1000 nuclear cruise missiles, compared with none for China.

The US has 10 aircraft carriers plus one under construction, attached to the Fifth and Seventh Fleets. China currently has two aircraft carriers, with a third in early construction, and a fourth planned for sometime in the mid-2020 or 2030s. Their first carrier, the Liaoning, was commissioned by the PLAN in 2012, though it was first laid down in the early 1990s.

China critics in the USA are not monolithic. They have many shades including ‘Engagers’, ‘Realists’, ‘Duopolists’, ‘China Lead’, ‘Declinists’ and so on.

The `Critics’ have an un-reconcilable antipathy toward China because of its repression of a wide spectrum of human rights (religious, labour, media and ethnic minority).

The ‘engagers’ look up for a common ground with China as a matter of national interest. They are optimistic that globalization, economic interdependence and rules of multilateral trade will lead to democratisation in China. `Realist engagers’ are convinced that China has learnt lessons from the collapse of the USSR about the dangers of imperial overstretch. As such, China understands the realities of the current international system and limited capacity to change it.

‘China Duopolists’ believe the USA and China could cooperate to bring into being a Chimerica (G-2), being the two most important countries. The ‘China lead’ school believes China is already on the verge of replacing the USA as the world’s number-one power. The ‘Declinists’ believe that demise of the US global leadership already occurred as the ‘Washington consensus’ has been replaced. It is now Beijing, not Washington that is dictating new rules to govern the international economy.

(Biden, China’s Rise Isn’t Our Demise, The New York Times, 7 September 2011).

At present, China lacks the soft and hard power to supplant the USA. To do so, China needs to:

(a) Command loyalty of the majority of the countries.

(b) Initiate, innovate and articulate policies, programmes and activities, including dispensing rewards and punishments.

(c) Being a ‘model’ worth emulating, of values, culture, language, laws, and social and political practices.

(d) Excel in soft-power resources such as educational and public-health systems

Biden is being welcomed as a whiff of fresh air, though he has no magic wand to change the climate and trade atmosphere.  He has promised to rebuild America’s decrepit infrastructure, spend more on health and education, and ease immigration. .  He has pledged to raise tax on firms and the wealthy.

He is no revolutionary though his policies are tilted to the left of what Trump did.

His job is to re-unite fractious American democracy. He is supposed to shun the personalized style of his predecessor’s rule, scorning decency and truth.

If Trump exits with grace, Biden’s job would be easier. If Trump makes transition difficult for Biden, the democrats may do tit for tat to Trump. Deprived of immunities, Trump’s tax accounts would be exposed to public scrutiny. And action by enforcement.

Biden understands China better than his predecessor. But, it remains to be seen how the USA would set right the topsy-turvy alliances that Trump had interwoven.

It would be hard for Biden to ignore the plight of minorities in India and the `imprisoned’ Kashmiris. Joe would have to balance strategic interests against conniving at human rights violations.

The writer is a freelance journalist, has served in the Pakistan government for 39 years and holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law. He can be reached at [email protected]