During the chaotic, peculiar and miserable leadership of former U.S. President Donald Trump, the rift between the U.S. and the world reached its lowest point.
Trump’s primary goal for going head to head with global leaders in every field was to ensure that America became great again. After Trump's loss in the 2020 elections, the majority of Americans and the world felt a deep sense of relief. Thus, his efforts toward the goal of "making America great again" have failed for now.
Most leaders across the world celebrated the arrival of new U.S. President Joe Biden and hope to now work closer and repair frayed relations. It is expected that the Biden administration will focus on repairing ties with allies and forming a united front in dealing with China while shifting unilateral policies to engagement and multilateralism.
In this respect, Biden has already reversed Trump's orders, returning to be a part of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Paris Climate Agreement on the first day of his presidency.
However, there are still various difficult and complicated issues that need to be dealt with. These issues include:
It is believed that the Biden administration will adopt a tough stance on China regarding several issues, some of which will be discussed below. We may see softer discourses from both sides, while demands will not lessen.
Both sides may keep human rights at the front of any discussions such as the Americans’ calls for betterment of Uighur rights, while Beijing may play the Black Lives Matter (BLM) card. China's tariffs on American products and sanctions on 28 U.S. politicians are examples of Beijing’s counter-policies toward the U.S.
From now on, the American push will certainly encounter similar moves from China.
The course of U.S.-China relations may depend on four main issues: the trade deficit, mutual trust, the Taiwan case and the Uighur concern.
All of these are directly or indirectly related to China’s red lines on terrorism, extremism and separatism.
In the coming years, the perception and postures of the two sides on the Uighur issue may determine the dimensions of future clashes and friendship.
There is no doubt that the U.S. faces China as its strongest rival. It therefore creates the most challenging economic, technological, political and ideological rivalry for the U.S.
The Biden administration could take a different approach to China since the U.S. hopes to reduce this huge trade deficit. This issue would be easier to handle than the other three subjects.
China has been accused of frequently undermining the established global order. In a recent YouTube video hosted by Danny Russel, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and prominent U.S. politician George Shultz, the trust problem between the U.S. and China was discussed.
Shultz mentioned the importance of having some form of personal trust between the two sides that see each other as the enemy. As an example, Shultz spoke of a discussion with the Soviet Union's former Foreign Minister Edward Chavanotsi over how the Soviets should withdraw from Afghanistan.
Kissinger said, “If both sides’ actions are predictable, it is easy to have an understanding of what can be done, and how we can limit the conflict aspect.”
Russel summarized the views of these two distinguished guests as a “need to establish a relationship of mutual understanding that builds trust as a foundation for collaboration on areas where our interests overlap but also as the basis for collaboration on risk management and risk reduction.”
In my understanding, the two distinguished guests underlined the need for there to be an effective mutual channel that builds dialogue and keeps it open at any cost.
It seems that the trust between the U.S. and China has been profoundly broken during the Trump administration. In addition, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s last-minute remarks regarding the Uighurs may have caused confusion and deepened mistrust in Beijing on the possibility Washington has a hidden agenda in regard to Chinese sovereignty.
In 1979, the U.S. recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole administration of China. However, it did not completely cut off relations with Taiwan, something which has been interpreted and approached differently by both sides.
China has always reiterated that Taiwan is an internal issue, which involves utmost national and security interests for both sides. On Jan. 18, Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry of China, stated that, “China has decided to impose sanctions on the U.S. officials who bear major responsibilities and acted egregiously with regard to Taiwan.”
According to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China: “These individuals and their immediate family members are prohibited from entering the mainland, Hong Kong and Macao of China. They and companies and institutions associated with them are also restricted from doing business with China.”
This is seen as a clear sign that China will also play tough when Taiwan is at the negotiating table since Taiwan is seen as a province of China by the Chinese regime.
No matter what happens, the notable ties between Taiwan and the U.S. will continue to bother China. Recently, Taiwan redesigned its passport in order to strengthen the sense of belonging among Taiwanese people and to distinguish itself from mainland China.
This strategy may be an indication that the U.S. and Taiwan could see a comprehensive expansion in their friendship parallel to the course of Sino-American relations.
There is a palpable and obvious distinction between the U.S. and China in respect to the Uighurs, who reside mostly in the Uighur Autonomous Region of China.
The Uighur issue will continue straining ties between the two countries for the foreseeable future. According to many within and outside of China, Beijing has attempted to label all Uighurs as terrorists and extremists.
Due to this Chinese stance on the Uighurs, millions have been forced into "education" camps where it is claimed that they are brainwashed.
There is no excuse for such actions. Upon further discussions, it has been asserted that the policy of the "reeducation" camps is similar to concentration camps.
Moreover, Pompeo tweeted on the topic recently:
I have determined that the People’s Republic of China is committing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, China, targeting Uyghur Muslims and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) January 19, 2021
Pompeo's call may indicate a continuation of U.S. policy by having a joint stance between the U.S. and its allies against China over the Uighur issue.
From China’s perspective, Chunying said Pompeo's allegation is completely false and a malicious farce fabricated and hyped up by certain anti-China, anti-communist forces, calling the former secretary of state a "fanatical pioneer."
We will continue hearing more in regard to Sino-American relations when it comes to the issues mentioned above, especially in regard to the Uighur and Taiwan issues.
Of course, China is also expecting better relations with the new U.S. leadership. Above all, the world also expects an improvement in ties between these two economic powers.
*Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia