China should expect no reprieve from Trump measures under Biden: analysts

Alexandra Alper and Michael Martina
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing

By Alexandra Alper and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When he enters the White House in January, Joe Biden will likely stick with the Trump administration's harsh policies toward Chinese tech giants like Huawei Technologies, bowing to anti-China sentiment among U.S. lawmakers from both parties.

Analysts said Biden, a Democrat who last week defeated Republican President Donald Trump in a nail-biting race, would take a more measured approach to Chinese tech threats but was unlikely to unwind Trump's measures even as he enlists allies to try to force China to adhere to international rules.

"There would be significant congressional pushback to any rollback of the actions that have already been taken," said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Trump has slapped unilateral curbs on a host of Chinese firms, from telecoms equipment giant Huawei to Bytedance, which owns popular social media app TikTok, cooling relations with Beijing and causing market turmoil worldwide.

Along with much of Washington, Biden once welcomed the rise of China, but he has since sharpened his tone, calling President Xi Jinping a thug and vowing to take a tougher line than Trump on climate and human rights issues.

But the president-elect has refrained from tipping his hand on Trump's tech war. He expressed concern over data gathered on Americans by TikTok, which Trump has tried to ban and sell to a consortium of U.S. companies.

The deal has stalled and the ban is stuck in court.

Biden has offered few details on his policy stance on Huawei, but has said he does not support allowing Chinese firms to build critical U.S. infrastructure, which could include 5G networks. It was unclear whether he would keep Huawei on a trade blacklist that makes it harder for it to get high tech U.S. items like semiconductor chips.

His decisions on these matters could be hampered by deep disagreements among his advisers, analysts and insiders say.

"It's a big divide," said a source with knowledge of the Biden campaign's policy thinking. "There is an older crowd who consider themselves liberals and progressives who believe that free trade is responsible for greater prosperity for everyone. And there is also a Sanders-Warren ... crowd that is more skeptical," the person said, referring to liberal senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who had challenged Biden for the Democratic nomination.

Biden's team may also face lobbying efforts by the tech industry to loosen controls on China that have hurt their business.

"The tech community is very much supporting Biden over Trump, so there is going to be huge pressure to ... ease some of the export controls, semiconductor sales to Huawei," said Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian Studies at the American Heritage Institute.

Some China watchers expect less tumult under Biden. Trump's approach featured a multi-billion dollar trade deal as well as sanctions over Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong and threats over Beijing's handling of the coronavirus.

"It will be smoother, no matter what," said James Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, adding that policy goals are unlikely to change. "Same direction, smoother glidepath," he added.