Under Donald Trump, China-American relations fell to their lowest in decades, with a trade war and almost daily diplomatic clashes, to the point where Beijing officially warned of a 'new cold war' between the first two world military powers. And yet, with Joe Biden at the helm, relations could prove even more strained. Explanations.
He should respect China more but could prove to be firmer on the merits: Joe Biden promises to be tough for Beijing, from human rights to trade and technological disputes.
The Sino-American relationship has fallen under Donald Trump to the lowest in decades, with a trade war and an almost daily diplomatic clash, to the point that Beijing has officially warned of a "new cold war" between the first two powers global military.
The American president particularly angered the communist regime by approaching his Taiwanese rival and speaking of the "Chinese virus" about the Covid-19.
Joe Biden, who is due to move to the White House at the end of January, should be less provocative.
"With Biden, we should have a more respectful, more subtle and better targeted approach, which does not content itself with attacking but envisages long-term competition" between the two countries, forecasts Adam Ni, director of the China Policy Center in Australia.
The future president should thus strengthen ties with America's traditional allies, with the aim of "dissuading" Beijing from resorting to aggression, as Anthony Blinken, longtime adviser to Joe Biden, explained during the campaign. .
China "forgets" to congratulate Joe Biden
As the clash raged between the two candidates, President Xi Jinping's regime was careful not to take sides with either.
Since Joe Biden's victory on Saturday, most world leaders have sent their congratulations to him. But Beijing has so far refrained from recognizing the presidential result, while in 2016, Xi Jinping congratulated Donald Trump the day after his victory over Hillary Clinton.
Hong Kong, the Uyghurs ... Biden will turn up the pressure
Democrats or Republicans, Beijing seems to have resolved to have to face the hostility of Washington on a long-term basis, which is said to be alarmed by the rise to power of the world's second-largest economic power.
"China should not imagine that the election of Biden will improve relations with the United States," warns the nationalist daily Global Times in Beijing. "US competition and its mistrust of China will only increase."
Between bringing Hong Kong to heel and repression against the Muslim minority of Uyghurs in Xinjiang (north-west), the Biden administration should particularly increase the pressure on human rights.
For Joe Biden, Xi Jinping is a "thug"
Joe Biden himself did not mince his words earlier this year against the Chinese president. "He's a guy who doesn't have the slightest bones of democracy in his skeleton," said the former vice president. "He's a thug."
"His team has already qualified the internment of Uyghurs as genocide," recalls sinologist Bonnie Glaser, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Washington's return to the international stage
Beijing could take a dim view of America's return to the multilateral system, as Donald Trump withdrew it from the Paris climate agreement, from the Iran nuclear deal, from Unesco and the World Health Organization (WHO).
"The United States will play a more important role on the international scene. There will be less room for China to fill," predicted in Beijing the independent political scientist Hua Po.
Under Donald Trump, the American withdrawals could by contrast have made China appear as the champion of multilateralism.
"Our democracy, when weakened, in disarray, is undoubtedly a good thing for China," observed Councilor Blinken during a recent intervention at the Hudson Institute. "It makes our model less attractive."
On the Chinese side, some observers expect a return to Obama-era cooperation on specific issues such as North Korea and nuclear security, like Shen Dingli, professor at Fudan University in Shanghai.
But in Beijing's eyes, "it doesn't matter whether the president is Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Neither is ready to give up American domination over the world. On this point, nothing will change," he warns.