Beijing is taking its time to congratulate Joe Biden on his presidential election win as vote tallies in a number of battleground states are contested and legal wrangles are set to ensue.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have remained non-committal at press briefings about when President Xi Jinping will send congratulations to Biden, despite the widespread view that Beijing prefers the Democratic Party veteran and the comparative stability and predictability his administration is expected to bring.
A senior attache at Beijing’s embassy in Mexico City who previously worked at the North America division at the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s headquarters in Beijing told Asia Times that Beijing would remain quiet while President Donald Trump contests the result, even as many Chinese diplomats anticipate a conciliatory reset of ties.
He said that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had been liaising with his foreign counterparts across Asia and Europe about the outcome and that Wang had already drafted a congratulatory letter for Xi to sign and send to Biden as soon as the dust settles. The letter, the source said, would note Biden’s four trips to China over the past four decades.
Beijing’s silence so far has not stopped state media and netizens’ talk of a new honeymoon period. Caokao Xiaoxi, or Reference News, overseen by Xinhua and among the most-read papers in the country, compared the prospect of a thaw under Biden to the palpable amicability when Beijing and Washington established diplomatic relations in 1979.
Biden made his maiden trip to China in April that year as a 37-year-old senator. He was one of the youngest members of the first-ever US Congressional delegation to Communist Party-ruled China, which arrived three months after Washington switched its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing.
An article about Biden’s first trip to China that is now doing the rounds on Chinese social media believed to be spun by a former diplomat even claimed that Biden proposed during the trip to set up a station in China’s northern border region to keep tabs on the Soviet Union. Back then, Biden was also a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Biden’s second visit to China, in August 2001, coincided with China’s successful accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that year, owing largely to strong US backing.
Notwithstanding a catalog of incidents including the US-led NATO’s bombing of Beijing’s embassy in Belgrade and the collision of Chinese and American warplanes in the South China Sea, Biden was still feted by his Chinese counterparts in his capacity as the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. His itinerary included an outing to Beidaihe, an idyllic seaside summer retreat for Chinese leaders in northern Hebei province.
Biden, a proponent of China’s most-favored-nation (MFN) treatment, reputedly told then-president Jiang Zemin in the latter’s Beidaihe villa that the US would always welcome a rising, prosperous China as long as its practices and laws were compliant with WTO rules.
Biden’s advocacy for China at the WTO, 19 years later, was often cited by Trump during the election campaign as evidence of Biden’s willful blindness to China’s excesses while the Trump administration accused China of reneging on various of its WTO pledges.
Biden also attended a communion service at a remote, suburban chapel outside Beijing built in the 18th century during his second visit to China. He interacted with villagers and well-wishers there who were also devout Christians, according to a report at the time by the Global Times, a Communist Party-run newspaper.
Biden’s third visit to China in August 2011 as then-president Barack Obama’s deputy and special envoy was highlighted by a dinner at a packed Beijing alleyway eatery known for local delicacies made with pork liver and intestines. The People’s Daily quoted the American vice president as saying that he found the taste of the exotic food “amazing.”
Biden met then-president Hu Jintao but also spent three days with then-vice president Xi in Chengdu, where the pair visited a giant panda zoo, Intel and Dell-invested factories and a high school rebuilt with US donations after the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in 2008.
The two vice presidents reportedly compared notes on governance and diplomacy, and Biden promised during an open speech at Chengdu’s Sichuan University that the US would export more technologies provided that China beefed up its protection of foreign intellectual properties.
In 2013, Biden’s fourth trip to China came soon after Xi’s ascent to power, well before the US grew concerned about the concentration and trajectory of his rule and his drive to project Chinese economic and strategic power abroad.
On the sidelines, Biden and his granddaughter had a whistle-stop tour of a Chinese ice cream shop and a teahouse along a busy pedestrian street in the capital.
Former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Xi’s trusted aide who also served as Beijing’s ambassador to Washington, said that year that Biden’s decades-long ties with China, his “understanding” of the country and personal regard for Xi were the bedrock underscoring thriving ties during Obama’s presidency.
Amid hopes of a new uptick in China’s contacts with the US, a Chinese netizen gave Biden a monicker – Bai Zhenhua. “Bai” refers to his family name while “Zhenhua” means building a better China.