Taiwan, tariffs, boycotts: Chinese scholars expect more strife with US in 2022

  • Experts at forum predict tensions will continue in the new year, with most expecting Joe Biden to maintain or step up his predecessor’s tough policies on China
  • After a virtual meeting of the countries’ presidents raised hopes of a thaw in relations, events since, and those on the horizon, suggest otherwise

Chinese foreign policy experts are divided over whether Joe Biden’s approach to China is more predictable or conciliatory than that of Donald Trump, but they are united in predicting a rocky year ahead for relations, with Taiwan the biggest likely flashpoint.

A panel of experts at a forum last Sunday noted that US-China relations had shown signs of limited improvement following last month’s virtual summit between the two nations’ presidents. But goodwill was short-lived, with tensions rising again over the American diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

The Chinese government in recent days waged a blistering campaign targeting the Biden-led Summit for Democracy, to protest against the inclusion of self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a renegade province whose contact with other countries it fiercely opposes.

“There can be many minor improvements, but they are meaningless if the fundamental issues are not addressed,” said Shi Yinhong, director of the American studies centre at Renmin University.

The release of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou after her three years fighting extradition from Canada to the US, followed by the first virtual exchange between Biden and Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, were seen by some in China as signs that relations were improving.

But the Biden administration’s actions since the summit showed that it had not moved away from the Trump-era China policy and tensions would continue into next year, Shi said, citing the Olympic boycott and efforts to rally allies to restructure global supply chain to reduce reliance on China.

Most of the panel expected tensions over Taiwan to continue in 2022.

“The Taiwan issue will intensify further,” said Yang Yi, a navy rear admiral and former director of the Strategic Study Institute at the University of National Defence. “The two nations have been making preparation for it in terms of contingency plans and military power. This is the most dangerous flashpoint.”

Huang Renwei, an international relations scholar with Fudan University in Shanghai, said an ideological contest between China and the US was likely to be another point of friction.

“Both countries will have important events next year: the US will have midterm elections and China will have the 20th Communist Party congress,” Huang said.

“Biden’s Democratic Party is facing the danger of losses. He may need to show he’s more anti-China than the Republican Party to gain support, given rising anti-China sentiment in the US.”

Wu Xinbo, director at the same university’s American studies centre, was cautiously more optimistic.

“It is likely that the two countries will have more diplomatic and economic dialogue next year, with some improvement in economic ties such as a potential removal of some tariffs,” he said.

But he noted that Biden was likely to continue his two-pronged approach towards Beijing by pressuring it to change its industrial policy through new tariffs.

“We need to be fully prepared for any possibility,” Wu said. “In the words of the foreign ministry, we must abandon illusion.”

Author: Catherine Wong, SCMP

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