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Feb 12, 2024, 1:23pm EST
East Asia
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For China, a Biden-Trump rematch is a choice between two ‘bowls of poison’

Insights from Sinification, Nikkei Asia, and the Financial Times

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The News

A rematch between Joe Biden and Donald Trump looks increasingly inevitable this November, and the Chinese government is nervously anticipating the prospect of a U.S. presidential election with few possible upsides.

Beijing has said it has no preference between the two likely candidates. While Trump is “unpredictable and aggressive,” he “likes to strike deals” and could end up undercutting alliances the Biden administration has painstakingly built up, Chinese officials told Bloomberg.

“For China, no matter who won the U.S. presidential election, they would be two ‘bowls of poison,’” Zhao Minghao, a professor of international relations at Fudan University, told the Associated Press.

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Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Biden could keep the U.S.-China relationship stable, but may strengthen America’s presence in Asia

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Sources:  
Sinification, Foreign Policy, Financial Times

A second Biden term would likely see more opportunities for engagement between the two superpowers, Wang Hao, a professor at Fudan University wrote in the Sinification newsletter. But while a Biden reelection could prevent further deterioration in U.S.-China relations, a genuine turnaround would be unlikely, two analysts at the Intellisia Institute, a Chinese think tank, wrote in The Diplomat.

Meanwhile, some Chinese analysts worry that a second Biden term would see the U.S. continue to strengthen its alliances in the Indo-Pacific. This has been a key focus for the Biden administration, which has made its partnerships in Asia “the deepest and most robust they have been in all their history,” Derek Grossman wrote in Foreign Policy. The U.S.’ network of alliances have allowed American forces to establish military bases or use existing ones in Japan, Singapore, Australia, and the Philippines, as well as a host of smaller island states, boosting U.S. efforts to overcome the “tyranny of distance” that would complicate U.S. military efforts in the region, the Financial Times reported.

Trump’s divisiveness could weaken the Western anti-China coalition

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Sources:  
Bloomberg, Foreign Policy, Associated Press

Some analysts think that a second Trump term would endanger the U.S. network of alliances, as Trump’s desire to impose tariffs and his uncertain stance on NATO risks a rift with European states in particular. “Cementing distrust between the United States and Europe is the best way to prevent the emergence of trans-Atlantic policies detrimental to Chinese interests, such as joint export controls,” Agathe Demarais of the European Council on Foreign Relations wrote in Foreign Policy.

But that doesn’t mean Trump would be better for Chinese interests on the world stage. His general unpredictability and his proposal to institute a 60% tariff on Chinese goods has won him few friends in Beijing. “With Trump, there is no floor to U.S.-China relations, and Trump poses great risks and uncertainties, including the possibility of a military conflict,” Yun Sun, senior fellow at the Stimson Center, said to the Associated Press.

It’s not clear if Trump would protect Taiwan

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Sources:  
South China Morning Post, Bloomberg, Nikkei Asia

Last July, Trump was asked whether he would protect Taiwan if the Chinese Communist Party attacked the self-governing island, which it considers a renegade province. “If I answer that question, it’ll put me in a very bad negotiating position,” Trump replied. “That being said, Taiwan did take all of our chip business.”

The comments raised questions about whether Trump would assist Taiwan if China were to invade. “The U.S. will always pursue America first, and Taiwan can change from a chess piece to a discarded chess piece at any time,” a Chinese spokesperson said when asked about the comments late last month. Trump’s indifference toward Taiwan was “one of the worst kept secrets in Washington,” during his presidency, Evan Medeiros, former National Security Council senior dictator for Asia, told Nikkei Asia.

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