America's long policy of trying to shape China into a nation that plays by the rules of the global system and eventually democratizes is so 1990s. Twenty-first century China under President Xi Jinping sees itself on a historic mission to prove that its system of centralized, authoritarian control twinned with a powerhouse economy can best the Western order.
After toadying to Xi
for the sake of the US-China trade deal, Trump now appears to be getting tough: He recently closed China's consulate in Houston, accuses it of operating a vast spying network on US soil and has made Beijing a scapegoat for his own coronavirus missteps. And people in Biden's foreign policy orbit
appear to agree with the current administration's hardline secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, that the engagement principle that long underlined US-China relations has not delivered. The former vice president's campaign website promises to target "countries like China
" in its plan to revive US-based supply chains and boost American industry.
A Biden presidency might be more successful than Trump's in enlisting allies in Europe and Asia as a counterbalance to Chinese power. But Democrats hope to erase memories of Biden trying to carve out a mentor role with the up-and-coming Xi years ago, and his Senate vote to admit China into the WTO — the step that supercharged its economic rise.
Whoever wins in November, the politics point to a president who will be tough on China.
US-China relations sink further every 72 hours, it's beginning to seem. On Monday, the US consulate in China's western city of Chengdu closed, after Beijing ordered
staffers to get out within three days -- retaliation for Washington's shuttering of a Chinese consulate last week. Thirty-five years after then-Vice President George H.W. Bush inaugurated the Chengdu consulate, a worker on Sunday removed its plaque under the careful watch of a police officer.