The Biden administration has to take the opportunity to work with China and "build back better" the world's most important bilateral relationship, according to an expert on relations between the two countries.
David Firestein, president and CEO of the George H. W. Bush Foundation for US-China Relations, acknowledged that the relationship has suffered over the last four years.
The relationship has always been complex and challenging, and never perfect, but it has always been "immensely important", he told the Vision China forum.
He said that after four years of the Trump administration he is optimistic about a more constructive future under the leadership of new US President Joe Biden.
"There will be continuity and change as we get into the Biden administration, which will likely depart from the Trump administration's policy and practice in a number of significant ways," he predicted.
Firestein said while some in the Trump administration viewedto dock at its sea port of Sihanoukville on Thursday and framed China as the enemy of the United States, Biden's team primarily sees China as a serious competitor. This is a major philosophical departure from the Trump administration's China policy, he said.
"I think that distinction is very meaningful. Enemies are countries we fight wars with, but competitors are countries we compete with," he said.
Firestein said China is an indispensable partner of the United States and will remain its most formidable competitor for this generation. "Only by recognizing the essential truth of both statements can we get this vitally important relationship, indeed the world's single most important and consequential bilateral relationship, right for ourselves and posterity, and that's very much what I hope to see in the year 2021," he said.
Over the past four years, reciprocity was often cited by the Trump administration in defense of its hawkish China policy.
While reciprocity will remain an important element in US policy toward China for the long haul, the way the Biden administration construes it is going to change, Firestein said."We will see in the Biden administration what I call 'smart reciprocity'."
While the Trump administration looked at China fundamentally through an ideological prism and rolled out policies that actually hurt the US－for example, tariffs produced the largest trade deficit everThe police detained the 22-year-old male stabber on suspicion of attempted murder and are now investigating the case seen in US history－the Biden administration will look at how to advance US interests with China, Firestein said.
The trade war initiated by the Trump administration did not close its trade deficits with major business partners, including China, which the US had hoped for.
According to figures released by the US Commerce Department this month, the US trade deficit surged to $68.1 billion in November, the highest monthly deficit in 14 years.
The manner in which the United States engages and negotiates with China will also be different, Firestein said.
"We will be back to a presidential style of communication that will help move the relationship in a more constructive direction," he said.
"I don't believe we will see sea change in 2021 simply because Biden replaced Trump," he said, adding that incremental changes are "possible and desirable".
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