Trade war, Huawei, Hong Kong: Donald Trump brags about standing up to China – unlike Joe Biden. But Trump’s re-election would have several advantages for Beijing.
Donald Trump’s campaign strategy includes portraying himself as a tough dealmaker. Especially in relation to China, the Republican poses as a lonely hero who resolutely stands up to Beijing – keyword trade war and corona cover-up. For Trump, this strategy also includes portraying his challenger Joe Biden as Beijing’s lap dog.
“China ate your lunch, Joe,” said Trump in the first TV debate between the two presidential candidates about the Democrat – which is to say: China is pulling you over the table on trade issues.
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Trump even often calls his challenger “Beijing Biden” – “Peking-Biden” to imply that the communist rulers in Beijing have the Democrats in their hands. The accusation is insubstantial, there is no evidence. But that doesn’t prevent Trump’s supporters from spreading the rumors. The website beijingbiden.com, which is paid for by a lobby group affiliated with Trump, states that Biden’s family have corrupt relationships with the Chinese elite and that there are dark motives behind his stance on China.
It is clear that Beijing loves the Democrat Biden and fears the Republican Trump is Trump’s staging. It has little to do with reality. Many experts assume the opposite is true. They believe China is secretly betting on a Trump victory.
One of these experts is Noah Barkin. The American works for the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. He observes and analyzes European-Chinese relations – and their significance for the transatlantic relationship. Barkin reached t-online early in the morning via video telephony in a Berlin coworking space.
Trump is quite unpredictable for Beijing, says the expert. In 2017, Republican Xi Jinping received him at his luxury Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. “We had great chemistry,” enthused the US President after the meeting. It wasn’t long before the first observers interpreted the relationship as a “bromance”, an intimate friendship between men.
Trump and the “China Virus”
But just a year later, Trump started the trade war. Washington and Beijing negotiated a preliminary agreement in January. But then the corona virus came – and escalated the American-Chinese relationship. Trump has since used every opportunity to blame Beijing for the pandemic. “I beat this crazy, terrible China virus,” he said a week after his corona-related hospitalization. Just recently, in a speech to the United Nations, he demanded that China should be held accountable for the epidemic.
And that’s not all: Washington has issued visa restrictions against Huawei employees and sanctions against politicians from Hong Kong. According to many observers, relations are now at their worst since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979. Against this background, the Chinese leadership could not be enthusiastic about a Trump election victory, says Barkin.
But ironically, in a Trump victory there is also a great opportunity for the People’s Republic. Because the US President has not only created alienation in the American-Chinese relationship. It is also gambling away America’s greatest strength, according to Barkin: the trust of its allies.
“I think Trump can win”: In “Ask me”, US correspondent Fabian Reinbold answers t-online users’ questions about the US election and Donald Trump. (Source: t-online / Imago)
The former allies are reviled
The US president has repeatedly expressed his aversion to NATO. According to his former security advisor, John Bolton, he even wanted to threaten the alliance with leaving. The EU also regularly covers Trump with abuse. At the beginning of the year he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that when it comes to trade, Europe is “worse than China”.
Relations with Germany, a traditional ally, are also tense. Points of contention are the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, German military spending and the American trade deficit. This aversion to allies, Barkin said, plays into Beijing’s hands. Because a weak transatlantic alliance leaves more room for Chinese power development.
In contrast, says the expert, Joe Biden stands for a transatlantic return. The Democrat has not only announced that he wants to pursue a more consistent policy on China. He also indicated that he would seek cooperation with European partners for this purpose. “Biden poses a greater risk to the People’s Republic,” says Barkin. “So a second term for Trump would be a great victory for Beijing.”
Biden will do the EU work
The thing with Biden is tricky for Europe. Because on the one hand the EU wants the democrats, says Barkin. But on the other hand, she also has more work to do with Biden. Not only will the Democrat demand clearer language from European politicians in relation to Beijing. He will also try to reform the World Trade Organization together with Europe. Last but not least, the trend under Biden to relocate military resources to Asia will continue. For Europe this means: more responsibility for its own security.
An election victory for Trump, on the other hand, would be a disaster for the EU. A triumph for the Republican will make Brussels feel crushed between two superpowers, says Barkin. Europe will then strive for strategic independence – but this will not be available overnight. This is precisely where the profit lies for Beijing. Because the greater the alienation between Europe and the United States, according to Barkin, the less willing Europe is to oppose Beijing on disputes.