There is no 'binary U.S. election preference' for China
Tom Fowdy
Senator Kamala Harris of California is interviewed after the second night of the first Democratic primary debate in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 27, 2019. /Xinhua

Senator Kamala Harris of California is interviewed after the second night of the first Democratic primary debate in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 27, 2019. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a British political and international relations analyst and a graduate of Durham and Oxford universities. He writes on topics pertaining to China, the DPRK, Britain, and the U.S. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On August 11, U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden picked California Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate, making her the first African-American woman to be on the White House electoral ticket in history.

It comes amid Donald Trump doubling down on a campaign that has been vehemently centered upon anti-China nationalism, remarking that day that COVID-19 was a "China plague" and rudely stating that if Biden wins the White House everyone will be "speaking Chinese." This has also come on the back of recent allegations that Beijing wants the Democrats to "win the election."

As much as it is in the interest of the Trump administration to shape this narrative, in reality Beijing isn't making a "binary choice" or taking a preferential outcome on the U.S. election. It is purely and only campaign talk. The choice of Kamala Harris as the vice presidential candidate, somewhat of a China-hawk and having pushed various anti-China bills and measures in the U.S. Senate, is evidence of this. Irrespective, her selection gives the Democrats a crucial advantage with African Americans which may be decisive in defeating Trump, which may blunt the onslaught of anti-China rhetoric. Still don't expect any lenience.

Does China really wish for Trump to lose? It is not hard to picture such given the outlook of U.S.-China relations since COVID-19 swept the country, the proliferation of anti-China attacks, Cold War rhetoric and sanctions have become the bedrock of a nationalist campaign which places getting tough on China at its core.

It is a natural inevitability that the Trump administration would pitch itself as being tougher on Beijing and that its opponents are soft, as well as pitching a narrative to voters that Beijing obviously wants the other side to win.

This has quickly been escalated by officials into groundless claims of "election interference" even though there is no actual evidence. It's all campaign rhetoric.

In reality, it isn't that simple. First of all, China does not interfere in elections and upholds the principle of non-interference in other country's affairs. It does not, either directly or indirectly, illustrate a preference for the outcome of elections in the United States and will not do so. This is how it has always been.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump attend their respective events on different occasions. /Xinhua

Joe Biden and Donald Trump attend their respective events on different occasions. /Xinhua

There is not a single public statement by any authority in China which has insinuated the position that "China opposes Trump." The media fail to give scope to this. Irrespective as to who wins the presidency, China's diplomatic rhetoric will continue to be open and willing to engage, despite the hostility Trump has shown. In the event the president is re-elected, Beijing will ultimately opt to try and re-secure stability in bilateral ties despite the profound difficulties which may arise.

Second of all, shifting through the Trump administration's campaign rhetoric, the Biden administration is not going to be any friendlier to China even if less volatile.

Only days ago did the Democratic contender accuse the president of "appeasement" towards Beijing. He also accused China of "stealing America's ideas" and criticized Trump's phase-one trade deal on the premise it was "unenforceable" and did not produce enough commitment from the country.

In tandem with this, the selection of Kamala Harris also illustrates a hawkish view on China, even if on different angles to the Trump administration. Although she has condemned the racism embedded in the term "Chinese virus," Harris was a co-sponsor of the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" last year alongside Marco Rubio and has repeatedly voiced her support for protests in the city and has also pushed for action on Xinjiang.

In this case, whilst the two parties obviously differ on their strategies and areas of emphasis concerning Beijing, there is truly no binary choice on China-related matters, nor is there any immediate sign either party offers an easy route to recovery.

Instead, we should directly interpret public rhetoric stating China's "preferences" on behalf of U.S. elected officials as obvious campaign pitches on behalf of the Trump administration, which is seeking to transform this election into a clear race to the bottom concerning Beijing.

Although Biden and Harris may steer away from the blatant racism of the White House, this does not necessarily translate into any friendlier or easier policy outcomes. Beyond that, however, their ability to appeal to ethnic minority groups and moderates is likely to make the campaign challenging for the president, and may expose the limitations of a ticket based purely on anti-China nationalism.

Still, Beijing will be ready to make the most of whatever outcome there may be, without any preference.

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