HONG KONG – The Chinese government hopes Sino-United States relations will get back on track after the Biden administration took office on January 20, but political analysts in Hong Kong and Taiwan are skeptical a drastic shift is in the offing.
Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman at China’s Foreign Ministry, said on Wednesday that the outgoing Trump administration had made mistakes in its China policies, wrongly treated China as the US’ biggest competitor and wrongly intervened in China’s internal affairs.
Hua said this had seriously undermined Sino-US relations and did not benefit either Americans or the Chinese people. She urged the Biden government to treat China rationally and work with the world’s second-largest economy to put relations “back on track”, as they were four years ago.
Yet early signs show the road ahead will be rocky. Antony Blinken, the incoming US Secretary of State, said Tuesday that he disagreed with Trump’s way of handling China in several areas, but believed that Trump was right in taking a tough approach to Beijing.
Blinken also said he supported his predecessor Mike Pompeo for announcing the Trump administration’s new determination that China was committing crimes against humanity against the Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minority groups in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.
Pompeo referred to China’s treatment of the Uighurs as “genocide” in a parting blow at Beijing earlier this week.
Biden has already sent one tough signal towards Beijing. According to a news release by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s Representative to the US, was invited by the US Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to attend Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.
Shortly after the Biden administration took office on Thursday morning Beijing time, China’s Foreign Ministry announced it was imposing sanctions on 28 former US officials, including the outgoing Pompeo, White House Trade Advisor Peter Navarro and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
‘Unproductive and cynical’
China said these officials would not be allowed to enter the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau or do business with Chinese companies.
A spokeswoman for Biden’s National Security Council said China’s move to sanction former Trump administration officials was “unproductive and cynical” and should be condemned by Americans from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Lau Siu-kai, a pro-Beijing academic and the vice president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing had finalized the sanction list a while ago but intentionally announced it after Trump’s officials stepped down so those sanctioned could not fight back and cause damage.
“The sanctions were a warning from the Chinese government to the Biden administration that if the US imposes sanctions to disturb Beijing’s and Hong Kong government’s rulings again, China will retaliate with the same strength,” Lau said, adding that Biden should not follow in Trump’s footsteps.
Lau said it seemed that Biden would temporarily stop sanctioning Hong Kong and Chinese officials and instead try to deal with China through traditional diplomacy.
Li Haidong, director of the Center for American Studies at China Foreign Affairs University, was quoted in the Global Times as saying that the US officials were sanctioned after they stepped down as Beijing wanted to send a clear message to the US that anyone who suppressed and smeared China would face consequences.
Li said the US may be surprised by China’s sanctions as it was used to sanctioning others but was rarely sanctioned itself. He said the sanctions showed that China and the US are equal in their relations.
“Compared with Trump, Biden would respect more the international orders and organizations. But this may not be a good thing to China,” said Raymond Young Lap-moon, chief executive of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong and a former Hong Kong official.
“If the US successfully reconciles with other countries, the Western world will form a stronger tie and create more pressure on China in trade talks.”
On January 9, Pompeo announced that all restrictions on official contacts with Taiwan were “null and void.” He said for several decades the State Department had created complex internal restrictions to regulate diplomats, service members and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts.
However, he said the US would no longer take these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the Communist regime in Beijing.
Chang Wu-ueh, an associate professor in the Department of Diplomacy and International Relations at Tamkang University in Taiwan, told the Central News Agency that Beijing would probably take the initiative to discuss the Taiwan Strait with the Biden administration and hope the US would stick with the “One China” policy.
However, he said it was not likely that Biden would change the US’ tough stance against Beijing on Taiwan. At the same time, US-Taiwan relations would not have a lot of breakthroughs in the short term as Biden would focus on local issues first, Chang added.
“President Biden understands that there is only one China. There is no ambiguity about one China. The capital of one China is Beijing. There is not an independent country called Taiwan,” Graham Allison, an international relations expert and an advisor to Biden, told TVBS, which is a Taiwan-based TV broadcasting company, in an interview on Monday.
Biden had to come up with a new Taiwan policy plan for China and the US instead of relying on the “one country, two systems” model, which had already come to an end, Allison said.
The “one country, two systems” model was formulated by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s, aimed at ensuring a smooth handover of Hong Kong from the British to the Chinese government. Mainland China wanted to lure Taiwan to reunify with it under this governance model.
Last May, Trump stripped several of Hong Kong’s special privileges with the US as “one country, two systems” had become “one country, one system” in Washington’s estimation after a clampdown and imposition of a new national security law.