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Biden's Asia policy

China sees more common ground with Biden-led US

Beijing braces for trade and tech tensions to persist but spots an opening on climate

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the White House on Jan. 22. Many Chinese officials hope the new American leader will be more open to bilateral cooperation.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- As U.S. President Joe Biden kicks off his tenure, China has taken a magnifying glass to his administration in order to gain insight on how bilateral relations might play out over the next four years.

Chinese officials expect Biden to keep up the heat on such issues as trade. But many hope that he will be more open to dialogue and cooperation than predecessor Donald Trump, especially in areas like climate change -- a stance backed by a new report making the rounds within the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Intellisia Institute, a think tank spawned from Jinan University in Guangzhou, recently produced a report analyzing the backgrounds of key Biden administration personnel picks. The document has circulated throughout the party, including in Chinese President Xi Jinping's inner circle, a party source said.

Trump's Washington had escalated its trade war with Beijing and had sought to shut Chinese companies out of the tech sector, such as through banning exports to Huawei Technologies. The U.S. will continue to exert pressure under the Biden administration, the Intellisia report predicts, citing Antony Blinken's comment in his Senate confirmation hearing to become secretary of state that China "poses the most significant challenge" of any country to the U.S.

The report also touches on how the father of Gina Raimondo -- Biden's pick for commerce secretary -- lost his job at a watch factory when work was offshored to China.

It raises alarms over American efforts to decouple from China's manufacturing sector after the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the dependence of the U.S. on Chinese-made masks and other medical products.

Katherine Tai, Biden's choice for U.S. trade representative, has proposed that Washington and allies agree on supplying protective equipment to one another. If manufacturers have a guaranteed market, they will have more incentive to increase production at home, Tai argues.

Comments by Tai and by Central Intelligence Agency chief pick William Burns suggest that the Biden administration will pressure China to abide by international trade rules, the Intellisia report says.

But there is also optimism in Beijing that Washington will rekindle the bilateral dialogue under new leadership, starting on climate change. Xi targets carbon neutrality before 2060, while Biden brought the U.S. back into the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.

John Kerry, who holds the newly created post of special presidential envoy for climate, and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese are both seen as advocates of bilateral cooperation. Deese is concerned that many other countries are interested in working with China on new energy, according to the Intellisia report.

On the South China Sea and Taiwan, the Biden administration is expected to take less of a hard line than its predecessor.

Biden was originally believed to be considering Michele Flournoy, a former undersecretary of defense for policy and China hawk, to fill the role of defense secretary. But he ultimately went with retired Gen. Lloyd Austin.

Choosing Austin was a sign from Biden that he will not take steps that would escalate military rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region, the Intellisia report says.

While the Biden administration is expected to continue criticizing China on human rights and highlighting shared values with Taiwan, it will likely scale back direct assistance to the island to avoid fueling tensions with the mainland, the report predicts. Jake Sullivan, Biden's pick for national security adviser, has also called for better crisis management with China, according to the report.

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