Caixin
Nov 03, 2020 07:58 PM
WORLD

Biden Could Ditch Hawkish U.S. Stance on China, Top American Scholar Says

A Joe Biden White House could ditch the hawkish U.S. ways of dealing with China under President Donald Trump and instead adopt a “smarter and coordinated” approach in its strategic competition with Beijing if the former vice president wins on Tuesday, a prominent American scholar said.

Ezra Vogel, an emeritus professor specializing in Asia studies at Harvard University, told Caixin in an interview that Trump had brought “significant changes” to the U.S.’ Asia policy and lacked the capabilities needed to properly handle China issues.

Vogel said that most of the Trump team favored hawkish ways to confront China, while many qualified China hands in Washington had been sidelined during his era.

He criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “messy, unreliable and excessive” comments on China without elaboration. Pompeo has been vocal in his accusations against Beijing’s practices over a series of issues, including Hong Kong’s national security law and alleged intellectual property theft.

But if former Vice President Joe Biden defeats Trump on Nov. 3, he predicted, the new administration would adopt a “smarter” approach, uniting with its allies to compete with China in a “more coordinated” fashion.

The latest polling data in the U.S. shows Biden is favored to become the next president after Election Day on Nov. 3. The Democrats are also projected to regain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

The 90-year-old professor, fluent in Chinese and Japanese, made his name through his acclaimed studies on Asia, particularly China and Japan. He was director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard in the 1970s and 1990s. After retirement, he published a book on China’s former leader, Deng Xiaoping, and his era in 2011.

In the past four years, the Trump administration has been conducting a global pressure campaign to persuade American allies to side with Washington in countering China’s rising geopolitical and economic influence.

Pompeo has been attempting to form an alliance with European and Asian allies, such as Britain, Germany and Japan, demanding a ban on Chinese telecom giant Huawei due to alleged security concerns. Several countries, including the U.K. and Italy, banned Huawei from their 5G markets, but Germany did not follow.

“Of course, the impact of the U.S.’ China policy over the last one or two years could not be undone immediately,” Vogel said, but the two countries should rebuild their trust under a new White House.

“It’s crucial to rebuild mutual trust in the next two or three years to promote competition and cooperation,” he said, “if not, the world would be a dangerous place.”

In the midst of the U.S.-China trade war in July 2019, Vogel co-authored with American scholars and former diplomats an open letter published in The Washington Post, appealing to Trump and members of the U.S. Congress that “China is not an enemy.”

While acknowledging that Washington needs a “strong response” to Beijing’s behavior, the letter said the deterioration in U.S. relations with China “does not serve American or global interest” and “many U.S. actions are contributing directly to the downward spiral in relations.”

A year after the publication of the open letter, Vogel said that as the world’s two largest economies, competition between China and the U.S. is unavoidable. “But [the two countries] should use peaceful and smart ways to compete, avoiding dangerous activities,” he said.

Vogel warned there might be a less than 1% chance for China and America to engage in a hot war as a result of the current high tensions, “but 1% has been already too high.”

Contact reporter Lu Zhenhua (zhenhualu@caixin.com)

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