In addition to a deadly pandemic and a weakened economy, President-elect Joe Biden will inherit one more challenge when he takes office in January: a toxic relationship with the world’s second-largest economy.
US President Donald Trump has placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of products from China, imposed sanctions on Chinese companies and restricted Chinese businesses from buying US technology — a multiyear onslaught aimed at forcing Beijing to change its trade practices and as punishment for its authoritarian ways. He shows no sign of letting up in his final days in office: On Thursday, Trump issued an executive order barring investments in Chinese firms with military ties.
The hard choices for Biden will include deciding whether to maintain tariffs on about $360 billion worth of Chinese imports, which have raised costs for US businesses and consumers, or whether to relax those levies in exchange for concessions on economic issues, or other fronts, like climate change.
Biden will need to walk a careful line. He and his advisers view many of Trump’s measures, which were aimed at severing ties between the Chinese and US economies, as clumsy, costly and unstrategic. They say they want to take a smarter approach that combines working with the Chinese on some issues like global warming and the pandemic, while competing with them on technological leadership and confronting them on other issues like military expansionism, human rights violations or unfair trade.
But even if it departs from Trump’s punishing approach, the Biden administration will be eager to maintain leverage over China to accomplish its own policy goals.