Election 2020: The foreign policy wedge between Trump and Biden

At a time when racial justice, the economy and COVID-19 dominates the U.S. election, foreign policy issues seem to have faded into obscurity. But the presidential candidates’ positions – some vastly different, others similar – are nevertheless revealing about how the election plays out and what the next administration will do.

China hardliners

One of the central pillars in Donald Trump’s foreign policy is his multifaceted deterrence campaign against what he believes to be America’s biggest rival –China.

From his entry into politics onwards, the Republican has been unequivocal about his views on the consequences of U.S. trade policies with China and how he planned to counteract them. Since taking office, Trump has promised a flurry of measures against China, pushing bilateral relations to their lowest point in decades.

“Globalization has raised serious concerns for the job environment in the U.S., and China has become the scapegoat for its resulting impacts,” Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, told CGTN. “Trump, though not fully responsible for the rising hostility against China, has managed to take it to a new extreme.”

Surveys have found that the number of Americans holding favorable views towards China have dropped significantly since 2016. “It is no longer politically wise to characterize China as a partner or friend,” wrote Dr. Justin Conrad, associate professor of international affairs at the University of Georgia, in an opinion piece in The Diplomat.

Trump, who also blames China for the COVID-19 pandemic, has been leading the anti-China charge. Democrats, however, seem to have fallen behind on the issue. Biden was late to realize the electoral importance of a hard stance on China.

From, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man” to accusing Trump of not being harsh enough, a change in Biden’s position on China is clear. Whether the Democrat’s shift was out of conviction or simply an attempt to blunt Trump’s claim that he was soft on China is less certain. But Trump’s tough anti-China stance has been gaining bipartisan support: in the Democratic debates the candidates didn’t question the president’s standpoint, only his strategy.