Why China has been quiet since Biden's 'victory'

Beijing is waiting to see what will be the behavior of the new American president towards China.

In the world of leaders of large countries, it is customary to congratulate a new president of the United States. This is what happened to Joe Biden. As soon as his victory was known on November 7, messages of sympathy reached him from many countries. But not from China. Simply, in Beijing on November 9, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said: “We have noted that Mr. Biden has declared himself the winner, we understand that the result of the US presidential election will be determined. according to US laws and procedures. ”

There is obviously a hint of irony in this statement. By not hastening to recognize Joe Biden's victory, China is implying that it is struggling to understand the American democratic system. In any case, the Chinese regime has kept a distance from the electoral campaign in the United States.

Chinese press discreet about the ballot

In the past, the Chinese media have devoted their headlines to a US presidential election. This was much less the case this year. The television news and the written press are more interested these days in the new version of mobile phone that the Huawei company has just released. Or the traditional Celebration of Singles (the Single Day) which takes place on November 11 and which is undoubtedly - by the number of purchases made in the country - the biggest day of sales in the world. The number "1" evokes celibacy, and its succession in the date gave its name to this event: 11/11.

However, it has happened lately that at 7 p.m. the newspaper of CCTV, the first Chinese public television channel, talks about the situation in the United States. But it was to show images of riots in front of the White House or to present the death figures caused by the Covid-19. Which is obviously not done to enhance the United States. At the same time, tens of millions of Chinese followed US presidential news on social networks like Sina.com or Weibo. Without it being possible to measure what wins between the rejection and the attraction that these Internet users may feel towards America.

    "The future of China does not depend on the American election." - Qin Gang, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs

China, on the other hand, has no shortage of observers of American political life. Economist Ding Yifan, researcher at the Development Center of the State Council, has participated in numerous study missions to Washington. He believes that "the conditions in which this election took place underline the weaknesses of the American system". A point of view that he details in the field of health: "In the United States, all decisions to fight against Covid-19 are riddled with political calculations. In the States, the governors think first of all, according to their political stripe, about what their decision can bring them. These are small political calculations. ”

Some Chinese newspapers mentioning the victory of Joe Biden, in the streets of Beijing, on November 9, 2020.

Observe Biden

Quite officially, the Chinese leaders have distanced themselves from the American election. On October 31, Vice Foreign Minister Qin Gang expressed it during a meeting with some Western journalists: "The future of China does not depend on the American election," he said. Adding: “We don't care who's in the White House. What we want is a calm and better relationship with the United States. ”

Which seems to imply that Beijing is waiting to see without too much illusion what Joe Biden's behavior will be towards China. Even the fact that Xi Jinping and Joe Biden know each other is not addressed by the Chinese press. They met several times during the first term of the Obama presidency, when Joe Biden, the US vice president, was in charge of relations with China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) with US Vice President Joe Biden in Beijing on December 4, 2013.

Beijing notes that Donald Trump has increased tariffs on the roughly $ 370 billion in Chinese products that the United States imports each year. Could Joe Biden put an end to this way of doing things?

In Paris, François Heisbourg, special advisor to the Foundation for Strategic Research, explained on November 5 in The Latest News from Alsace that the opposition to China is "probably the most important element of continuity between Biden and Trump, supported by a very broad consensus in the United States, and by Republican and Democratic politicians ”.

Chinese leaders probably share this analysis. In addition, they are wary of American Democratic presidents who are always very critical of the human rights situation in China. Joe Biden, during his campaign, notably announced that, if elected, he would meet the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans whom Beijing considers “a dangerous separatist”.

China is organizing to outrun the Americans

The Chinese Communist Party is convinced that the United States is primarily concerned with blocking China's development because it does not tolerate the prospect of the world's second-largest economy overtaking that of the United States.

Also, to strengthen itself in the face of probable American obstacles, China is in the process of organizing itself. It is carefully redefining its priorities in order in particular to be less dependent on its exports and to better identify the possibilities of its internal market. All this was detailed during the Party Central Committee session held in Beijing from October 26 to 28.

Like every year, this meeting took place in a hall of the People's Palace, on the west face of Tian'anmen Square. With Xi Jinping in the podium, surrounded by senior Communist Party leaders. And behind them, a decoration where in golden color dominate the sickle and the hammer, the traditional communist emblem. In the room, sit the 198 members of this Central Committee and their 166 substitutes, as well as the members of the Party's Discipline Control Commission, ministry officials and some academics. In total, they are nearly 400 to participate in this summit meeting. All are of course members of the Communist Party. And the sessions take place for three days behind closed doors, except for the few moments when televisions and photographers can take pictures.

The Central Committee of the Communist Party in China is a replica of the institution that existed under the same name in the Soviet Union. It is there that are examined and voted, almost always unanimously, the main orientations of the activity of the Party and the government for the following year.

But in 2020, like every five years, the five-year plan was on the agenda. The leaders presented the main axes of the 14th plan which sets the priorities of the Chinese economy for the period 2021-2025. They will be definitively adopted next March at the meeting of the National People's Congress.

The Sino-American rivalry has grown considerably, and Chinese leaders are now wary of relations with the Americans.

The statement released on October 29, at the end of the meeting of the Central Committee, indicates that the objective of China is now to move towards a "new model of economic development" more focused on household consumption. China will therefore stop basing the growth of its economy on the export of cheap products "made in China".

The press release believes that "the international environment is becoming more and more complex, with increasing instability." Therefore, for Beijing to fall back on the Chinese domestic market is an adaptation to the current world: Sino-American rivalry has grown considerably and Chinese leaders are now wary of relations with the Americans. Moreover, the Covid-19 epidemic no longer allows China to profit from international trade as much as it has been able to do for two decades.

Under these conditions, Chinese leaders let it be known that the country must rely on “innovation” to achieve “technological autonomy”. And it has become a priority to bring the giants of Chinese industry to gain independence. This, in order to build by 2035, a “modern socialist country” in which “the gross domestic product per capita will reach the level of the moderately developed countries”.

Ecology, a point of agreement?

The Central Committee specifies another Chinese concern: accelerating the ecological transition. China adhered to the climate preservation agreements signed at the Paris Conference in 2016. Last September, President Xi Jinping said the country aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Central Committee statement does not give details on the steps that China - the planet's biggest polluter as well as the biggest investor in renewable energies - will take to achieve this result.

The Trump administration recently formalized its withdrawal from the Climate Conference. However, Joe Biden has announced that he will return to this process. Which, at least, paves the way for a Sino-American point of agreement.

2022 target for Xi Jinping

In all this, there is no question of the succession of Xi Jinping. In 1991, Deng Xiaoping, the strong man of post-Maoism, had established a rule: the Chinese leaders were not to stay more than ten years in power. And indeed, from 1992, Jiang Zemin, then Hu Jintao each served two terms of five years.

Xi Jinping, appointed in 2012, will have completed his two terms at the Party congress in 2022. In 2017, at the last congress, his successor should have appeared among the seven members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, the supreme body of power. in China. Instead, a quiet provision - which was not revealed until 2018 - established that Xi Jinping could remain in office for life. The plenum only confirmed that the Chinese president was heading for a third term.

Unlike the United States, Chinese political life, closed to the outside world, is hardly geared towards public opinion. The Chinese Communist Party, however, made an opening gesture this year. For two weeks in August, Chinese netizens - and not just Party members - were invited to "offer advice and suggestions on developing the plan." In particular on topics such as the evolution of the health system, educational reforms or environmental protection. This new possibility was presented as an element of "socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics". According to the People's Daily, Internet users have given "more than a million opinions". The newspaper admits that this is little for the Chinese population.

The United States appears to be an unstable and unpredictable first power. [...] In comparison, China is stable and its future is predictable. " - Ding Yifan, economist

It is clearly much more in the circles of power that a reflection is developing in China on developments in the world. The recent American election has led many Chinese experts to believe that the United States is weakened. In particular by the behavior of Donald Trump who does not recognize his defeat.

Ding Yifan arguably represents a widely held thought among Chinese leaders when he says, “Ultimately the United States emerges as an unstable and unpredictable first power. They are unable today to fulfill their role of world leadership. In comparison, China is stable and its future is predictable. The recent Communist Party Central Committee has shown the way for China's development for the next five years and set the prospects for the beyond. There is political and social stability and predictability in China. ”

In 2001, the United States was among the countries most in favor of China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). The idea was that this adherence to the functioning of international trade would promote economic liberalism in China and inevitably lead to democratic development in China. This is not what happened. China today aims above all to regain the place of the first civilization in the world that it considers to have had during the past centuries.

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