One of the staples of Donald Trump’s foreign policy – or poor attempt at having a foreign policy – has been his ongoing trade war with China. Before COVID, he decided to call himself “Tariff Man” as he levied tariffs on $370 billion of imports – something that hit American farmers in the process, as much as Trump denied this and tried to bail them out on his own. When the pandemic hit, he tried as hard as he could to blame China and hope he could make it stick, to deflect from his own administration’s gross mismanagement of the pandemic. The problem is, whatever other problems his erratic China policy may have caused, it may have had a side effect Trump wasn’t planning on: Giving Joe Biden the upper hand when it comes to trade talks.
Even though President-elect Biden and fellow Democrats oppose many of the measures the Trump administration took against China, the trade sanctions will all still be on the table after Biden is sworn in as president, giving him substantial leverage for any negotiating with China’s President Xi.
Biden’s Justice Department could, for example, negotiate for a Huawei executive to be returned to China whose hearing is scheduled for next spring, which could happen even before things are fully sorted out within Biden’s cabinet.
Although Biden has said that he doesn’t plan to make any immediate moves, he called for U.S. allies to be on the same page – and some of the more aggressive countermoves made by Xi have already turned some countries against China, meaning they’re more likely to take Biden’s side when talks begin.
The upshot here is that not only are we going to get adults in the White House in less than a month who know how to handle a crisis, but Trump’s attempts to look tough on China are only going to make him look like more of a failure in retrospect after losing the election and leaving behind a mess that his opponent can quickly begin untangling.
James Sullivan is the assistant editor of Brain World Magazine and an advocate of science-based policy making