Biden and multilateralism
US president-elect Joe Biden announced on Monday key figures for his cabinet, naming Antony Blinken as his secretary of state. The US General Services Administration office informed Biden on the same day that the administration of US incumbent President Donald Trump is ready to begin the formal transition process. Now, the US power shift and policy adjustment have become unstoppable. Biden said fighting the raging COVID-19 pandemic will be the immediate priority of his new administration. He also said he would immediately return the US back to the Paris accord. He has promised to rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement if Tehran abides by the deal. These intentions to embrace multilateralism are worth welcoming. In terms of how to deal with China, Biden's team has not released much information after the election. Furthermore, what members of his team said reveals different tendencies. These can be interpreted in multiple ways. We believe, even though overall China-US ties have dramatically changed in comparison to four years ago, we cannot make any conclusions on the most important bilateral relations. However, there are many possibilities for the future. The key lies in how determined the Biden administration will be to make new commitments to multilateralism — hence demonstrating whether its stated desires to return to the international rules that were broken by the Trump administration will be real or merely empty rhetoric. In fact, can international relations shake off the current major shocks or not hinges on how China-US relations will proceed in the future. The US' relationship with its allies might be relatively easier to repair. After all, this nominally means balancing its interests and getting back to proper negotiation mechanisms and following general guidelines. Over the past four years, there have been no structural shocks to US-European relations, nor in US relations with its Asia-Pacific allies. The free-fall decline of China-US ties has affected the entire international relations system, however. This has harmed even technological advancements, such as 5G. Moreover, the reversal of the China-US relationship is not rooted to any major event between the two sides. That being said, subversive changes to Washington's principles and mind-set toward China have transpired. The core of the change is the unilateral mind-set of the "America First" policy. This mentality influences all US foreign policies. But China has become a focus of this US pressure. Europe came next. US' Asia-Pacific allies are forced to respond to the US in a submissive manner. The Biden administration needs to restore normal competition in China-US relations. Through communication and by discussing rules with China, it also needs to make sure that the two sides' competition stays under control. Biden's team has expressed the strategic idea of attaching more importance to strengthen the US' competitiveness. Hopefully, they are not just saying this as lip service, but will really lead the US' national strategy in this direction. That is the fundamental path to actually "make America great again." If this can materialize, it may greatly reduce international conflicts.
Otherwise, should the Blinken-led State Department continue Pompeo's unprofessional and extremely ideological China policy, the US' foreign policy will be restricted by the previous ruling team's political legacy. The world will continue to be split by the gap between China and the US. Other countries will be forced to become more deeply involved in a China-US conflict— but in new ways. One day the US will experience another transition of power, and this incoming Democratic government will discover that their adjustments were only done in vain. There are not many direct conflicts between China and the US. It's also not difficult for the two countries to establish effective management mechanisms to control problems. The US is unable to thwart China's development. Such US attempt is not only vicious political tricks, but also lacks the moral ground from the perspective of human rights. Most importantly, it's unrealistic at all, and faces many risks. The US' China policy will have a much broader room if Washington drops its crazy calculations to contain China's development. Take a look at several things that Biden really hopes to do, including pandemic control and climate change, to name a few. Regarding these issues, China is a partner that the US cannot circumvent. This reflects the true nature of China-US relations. Even if the US wants to improve its competitiveness, it cannot see China as an enemy. We think this point might be key for the Biden administration to make a difference: facing China-US relations with a pragmatic attitude. Time will prove this.