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Biden’s China Challenge

After years of the United States and China butting heads over trade and other issues, opportunities for a mutually constructive rapprochement are growing scarce. It will be up to Joe Biden's administration to develop a more cogent strategy for dealing with the most important foreign-policy issue of this century.

BOSTON – Election campaigns are rarely the place to look for reasoned geopolitical analysis, and the 2020 US presidential election was no exception. In fact, it featured even less disciplined thinking than usual, with Donald Trump decrying the “Chinese virus” and Joe Biden calling Chinese President Xi Jinping “a thug.”

Nonetheless, now that Biden is president and COVID-19 vaccines are being administered widely, America has more bandwidth to think afresh, particularly about the Sino-American relationship, which will be the central US foreign-policy issue for at least the next decade. If there was ever an international dynamic that demanded a cogent and credible strategy, this is it. But with emotions running dangerously high in both countries, the careful consideration such a strategy demands has been hard to discern.

With the list of mutual grievances growing longer by the day, changing the trajectory of the US-China relationship will not be easy. There are many questions, none of which admits of an easy answer. Indeed, where might an effort to restore relations even begin?