Three reasons why China would be happier with Trump than with Biden

Three reasons why China would be happier with Trump than with Biden

Opinion piece, Elections 2024

James Mann

March 13, 2024

The month after former President Trump left office in 2021, Matt Pottinger, who had been the point person on China on Trump’s National Security Council, told me in an interview that if Trump had stayed on for a second term, he might have gone wholesale switched. decoupling the US economy from China.

Yet John Bolton, who served as Trump’s third national security adviser, predicted in early 2021 that if Trump had been re-elected, he might have cared about bromance and a disastrous trade deal. [with China]just to get started.

These contradictory statements point to Trump’s unpredictability toward China. They also raise the question of how Chinese President Xi Jinping and his aides view the 2024 US elections and the possibility of a new Trump presidency.

A false logic has taken hold in this country. Trump talks tough about China and promises a wave of new import duties. Therefore, the thinking goes, China should not want Trump to return to the White House; Xi would


the re-election of President Biden.

That conclusion is wrong. Not only does China not worry about the prospect of a second Trump presidency, it would

choose it, prefer it

a continuation of Biden and the Democrats.

First of all, Trump is exactly the kind of leader that China knows how to deal with. He has a huge ego and thinks that only he can solve problems through deals that he thinks only he can make. Remember: Trump believed that the only way he could get North Korea to curb its nuclear weapons program was to meet with its leader, Kim Jong Un. His clumsy attempts to make deals produced a lot of drama, but no results.

China has a history of dealing with powerful officials through flattery, personal relationships and financial rewards. Chinese leaders prefer such officials to those concerned with impersonal rules or laws.

During Trump’s presidency, we have seen China use these levers. Using real estate deals and trademark subsidies, the Chinese forged ties with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Chinese officials also spent millions of dollars at Trump’s hotel properties. Such efforts would undoubtedly be revived during a second Trump presidency.

Trump supporters like to point out that Biden’s son Hunter has also done business with China, trading on his father’s name and power. But Hunter’s business interests were a dime compared to those of Trump Inc., and no one has presented compelling evidence that Joe Biden benefited from his family’s foreign dealings.

Aside from the appeal of Trump’s egomania,

Beijing is said to see its foreign policy goals as a major improvement over Biden’s.

China’s main geopolitical concern these days is fending off the series of alliances and partnerships the Biden administration has forged

in response to his policies.

The president has strengthened U.S. ties with Japan, South Korea and Australia; announced new US bases in the Philippines; improved bilateral cooperation with Vietnam; and recruited European countries to help counter China on trade, technology and sanctions.

Trump, by contrast, disdained America’s alliances during his first term, and has been even more so in his recent campaign statements, in which he questioned America’s NATO commitments, supported an end to aid to Ukraine, and offered words of praise for authoritarian leaders such as Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán, who was at Mar-a-Lago on Friday


Most importantly, Trump promises a new, warmer relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom China has signed an unlimited partnership in 2022. If Trump is re-elected, he could even lift sanctions on Russia.

From China’s perspective, an America that separates from its allies and draws closer to Russia would be ideal. An America that withdraws from the world stage gives China sufficient space to realize its international ambitions.

Finally, China understands that it is a Democratic and not a Republican government

want to

You’re more likely to act tough instead of just talking tough.

It is true that while Trump was in the White House, the US moved away from a policy of engagement and began treating China as the geopolitical and commercial adversary it had become. But that could have happened under any president, given the underlying factors: China’s aggressive actions abroad and growing corporate dissatisfaction with China’s commercial espionage and intellectual property theft.

Trump was prepared to impose tariffs on China


his predecessors were not. But Biden not only continued those tariffs, he also imposed new ones


trade restrictions that went far beyond anything Trump did to necessarily challenge the Chinese, he imposed restrictions in 2022 that he tightened a year later on China’s access to semiconductors and chip-making equipment. Such efforts appear likely to continue if Democrats retain the White House.

And then this: Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods were groundbreaking, but it is less well remembered that he also struck a trade deal with China. It can’t get any bigger than this, he


that turned out not to be a success. In return for modest reductions in tariffs imposed by Trump, China pledged to buy $200 million worth of U.S. exports. The Chinese never came close to fulfilling that promise.

Based on his record, it seems reasonable to predict that if Trump were to return to the White House, he would embark on bombastic rhetoric against China. Then, with an emphasis on personal diplomacy, he could look for another trade deal to promote regardless of its actual results.

Trump’s promises to weaken US relations with its allies, his self-centered approach to diplomacy and his tendency to over-hype and under-deliver would only make it easier for Beijing to achieve its global ambitions.

China is not afraid of Trump. It rejoices at the prospect of his return to the presidency.

James Mann, author of three books on America’s relationship with China, is a member of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.


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