January 28, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9159

Prominent Chinese Diplomatic Scholar: Under President Biden, We Will See 'Trumpism Without Trump'

January 28, 2021
China | Special Dispatch No. 9159

A prominent Chinese scholar assesses the prospects of Sino-American relations under a Biden administration and concludes that they will not differ markedly from policies set by Donald Trump. Wang Jisi, Dean of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking. University, says in an address that "identity politic" are now a permanent feature of American politics and international affairs, noting that Chairman Mao supported U.S. black "liberation" movements in the 1960s during the Communist Party's War and Revolution phase, and that while the Party's Peace and Development phase is still in effect, peace will soon be subsumed to security issues. Consequently, Wang says, it will be necessary to "realign the international order to a more just and reasonable direction," and that China will take the lead. Biden will pursue certain policies differently from Trump, including trade, human rights, and climate change, but in the end, under Biden, "we will see 'Trumpism without Trump.'"

Below is Wang Jisi's address at the Pacific Forum organized by the History Department of Fudan University:[1]


'Before The 1970s, People Believed That 'War And Revolution' Were The Theme Of The Era… At That Time, We Did Not Highlight Peace As The Goal Of Our Struggle'

"I am very pleased to attend the Pacific Forum organized by the History Department of Fudan University. When I prepared for my remarks today, I read about previous lectures at the Pacific Forum. I feel honored to attend this Forum.

"Today's forum is to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the founding of the History Department of Fudan University and the 100th birthday of Mr. Wang Xi. Professor Jin said just now that I belong to the new generation. Actually, I am pretty old. All I can say is that I am younger that Mr. Wang Xi. This reminds me of my contacts with Prof. Wang Xi in the 1980s and 1990s. I have very high regard for him. It especially reminds me of some important issues raised by Mr. Wang Xi in the early 1980s. Issues that caused some controversy, such as the 'Open Door' issue. I have always felt that Prof. Wang Xi always adhered to his own beliefs, or, in other words, adhered to the truth. I have indeed learned a lot from Prof. Wang Xi. I want to thank Teacher Jin Guangyao, Teacher Ma Jianbiao and Teacher Wang Dong for presiding over and participating in today's forum.

"The theme of my talk today is 'Sino-U.S. Relations after the U.S. Presidential Election.' Since this is a discussion among historians, I think I'd better talk a bit about history, because there are many excellent insights into Sino-U.S. relations, such as what sort of person Biden is, what his team looks like and what adjustments there will be in American foreign and domestic policies. There have indeed been a lot of discussion on these issues. If I merely repeat these, I don't think it will be any help to all of you. Therefore, I would like to proceed from my personal feelings about history, and talk about the history of Sino-U.S. relations and its current state.

"I was born in 1948. I believe that the history I have experienced can be divided into three periods. Many of you are younger than me. So when one talks about what China and the world looked like before the 1970s, many of you may not have personal experience. I never went abroad before the 1970s, but I had a lot of experiences about China.

"Before the 1970s, people believed that 'War and Revolution' were the theme of the era. Now we think about it, the first 70 years of the 20th century till China's reform and opening to the outside world, it was indeed the era of 'War and Revolution.' In 1972, Nixon visited China, and China and the United States published the Shanghai Communiqué in which China stated: 'Where there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution. This has become an irresistible historical trend.'

"At that time, we all firmly believed that that was an era of 'War and Revolution.' Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution. Now we talk about peace. But at that time, we did not highlight peace as the goal of our struggle, but rather independence, liberation and revolution. During the 1960s, in 1963 and 1968 to be exact, Chairman Mao Zedong published two statements in support of the black American riot movement. We must not forget that historical period.

Deng Xiaoping Put Forward The Two Themes Of Peace And Development; The Possibility Of A US-China War Is Minimum; The Issue Of Peace Has Been Replaced By The Issue Of Security

"In mid 1980s, due to the changes in China and in the world, Deng Xiaoping and other central Party leaders put forward that 'peace and development' are two major contemporary issues, or the theme of the times. That was indeed great change. The international situation has changed, so China's understanding of the international issues, and China's understanding of the global trend changed as well. We no longer insisted on taking class struggle as our key task, but proposed that economic construction should be the center of our work. This period lasted a long time. Even today, the official documents of our party still say that upholding peace and development is the theme of the current era.

"But personally, I believe that from the 1980s when Deng Xiaoping put forward the two themes of peace and development to the beginning of this century, and especially since the global financial crisis in 2008, the world has undergone another great change. And I believe that we must pay a great deal of attention to this change. At that time, we welcomed economic globalization, but later, there appeared a new trend of anti-globalization. I personally think highly of 'Re-Globalization: A New Perspective on Understanding China's Interaction with the World' recently published by Teacher Wang Dong.

"Some people say that war will break out between China and the US. But I believe the possibility of war is minimum. Even if there are some military crises, the two sides will control them so as not to have wars of large-scale. Therefore, the theme of peace is actually more of a security issue. Where there is security, there will be peace, but where there is peace, there may not necessarily be security. Take the current coronavirus pandemic for example. This is not a peace issue, not a development issue, but rather a security issue, such as personal safety and public health. Another example: after Biden takes office, the United States may refocus on climate change. This involves the issue of ecological security. Now we attach great importance to the issue of security—not just military security, but also political security, regime security, network security and health care security. This is indeed a fundamental change, and I hope all of us will pay great attention to this. The issue of peace is still important, but the issue of peace has been, in many ways, replaced by the issue of security.

Necessary 'To Re-align The International Order To A More Just And Reasonable Direction'

"In addition, I believe that another prominent issue of the current era is justice. We also propose that the world needs to establish a just and reasonable world order, a just and reasonable international order, or to re-align the international order to a more just and reasonable direction.

"Great changes have taken place in U.S. politics. All these problems that have emerged now arise from the confrontation between different ethnic groups and different classes. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party in the United States are fighting against each other, and different ethnic groups are fighting against each other. Old and new immigrants alike feel they are being treated unfairly. Although white folks feel that black lives also matter, the white underclass still feel that they are being treated unjustly. It is also true in the world. There has appeared a trend that is hard to reverse, or one can even say irreversible. That is to say that the gap between the rich and the poor has become even wider, and the gap between the rich and the poor is often related to the ethnic groups, nationalities, and social groups that people belong to. The problem of disparity between the rich and the poor has penetrated into every corner of society, and the problem of widening distribution inequality exists in every place, which brings about historical changes in global politics, economy and society.

"The global social, economic, and political changes are historic. They have driven and influenced political, economic, and social changes in China and the United States. Our view of the world has changed, and the global trend itself has changed. This is why China has embarked on the path of reform and opening up. Diplomacy is rooted in domestic politics. There may be many different variables when we talk about diplomacy, and I personally insist that diplomacy is rooted in domestic politics, and this is especially true of great power diplomacy.

'U.S. Policy And Its Basic Attitude Toward China Will Remain Unchanged Under Biden'

"Looking at the volatility and slippage in US-China relations since 2009, I think it is fundamentally the result of political changes in both countries. For example, the fact that the U.S. is now blaming China for the origin of the coronavirus pandemic is related to the intensification of ethnic tensions in the United States. The tendency of American leaders to present their domestic problems as foreign problems, to play the China card and the immigration card so as to garner voter support has become evident during the four years of the Trump administration. During Obama's presidency, there appeared the leftist 'Occupy Wall Street movement' and the rightist Tea Party movement. It is safe to say that the thorny problems in the US, no matter political, economic, social or cultural, will not be resolved as a result in the change of the ruling party. Now that Biden becomes the president, we will still see a 'Trumpism without Trump.' The changes in the United States will persist for a long time. And for a prolonged period of time, the problems it faces now will still exist.

"We have been talking about Sino-U.S. relations after Biden assumes office. I first want to emphasize that U.S. policy and its basic attitude toward China will remain unchanged after Biden becomes the President. That is to say that the nature of U.S. policy on China will be the same. Of course, there are two aspects in U.S. policy on China. One is competition with or containment of China, and the other is to seek cooperation in certain areas. However, the essence of competition first, cooperation second will not change, although there may be some changes in the focus and specific approaches.

"One example is that the Trump administration attaches great importance to the issue of trade deficit between the two countries, and wanted China to import more U.S. products through tariff adjustments. After Biden comes to power, he will still fight to solve this problem, but his focus may not be on trade deficit. Instead, his focus may be more related to some trade rules, including China's attitude towards state-owned enterprises, private enterprises, and China's attitude towards intellectual property rights. In other words, Biden is highly concerned with the issue of economic rules. Trump has already mentioned this issue, and the Biden administration will continue to emphasize "reciprocity" after taking office. For example, the United States will open up its market to China as much as China does to the United States.

"On the issue of human rights, perhaps the Biden administration will walk even farther or do more than the Trump administration. For instance, the basic attitude of the U.S. government on the Xinjiang issue, Tibet issue, Hong Kong issue as well as the Taiwan issue, which is at the core of Sino-U.S. relations, will remain unchanged, and the pressure it exerts on China won't be any less than the Trump administration.

'Sino-American Relations Are Inseparable From Identity Politics;' 'China, Not The US… Will Be Able To Steer The Direction Of US-China Relations'

"A big problem the United States faces now is what we call 'identity politics.' The Americans may ask themselves 'who are we'? They may say they are blacks, whites, or they may say they are new immigrants, old immigrants, etc. All these questions relate to identity politics.

"Looking at this issue from a global perspective, identity politics has evolved into a very important facet of global politics now. It is happening not only in the United States, but also in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa - in many parts of the world. Looking at it from a Chinese angle, we believe that we are all Chinese, especially in places like Beijing and Shanghai, and in this society we identify ourselves with the Chinese nation or with China as a country. But we also have to admit that there are also identity problems in different regions of China and among different groups of people. For example, some people in Hong Kong and Taiwan have a diluted identity with the Chinese nation and China, or have some other ideas. In some minority areas in Xinjiang and Tibet, ethnic separatist forces are still active, which is also a problem of identity politics.

"Therefore, Sino-American relations are inseparable from identity politics. When I look at US-China relations, I look more at the domestic politics of both countries, which also includes economic changes, social changes, values and ideological adjustments. For example, we know clearly what traditional American values are. But today, different groups of people in the United States have different values and different ideological aspirations. For China, we hope to pay equal attention to China's domestic development in all aspects, including the 14th Five-Year Plan, achieving the 'Two Centennial Goals' and so on, all of which involve China-U.S. relations.

"I would also like to add one point, and it is of course controversial. I believe that it is China, not the United States, that will be able to steer the direction of US-China relations at historic junctures. For example, after the victory of the Chinese Communist Party-led revolution in 1949, Sino-U.S. relations changed dramatically, with the United States taking a hostile attitude toward China. Fundamentally, changes in China led to changes in Sino-U.S. relations. And after the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. in 1979, China began the process of reform and opening up. Our understanding of the world changed, and many major changes were happening in China, which also changed the Sino-U.S. relationship to some extent. After 1979, economic and trade relations between China and the United States surged. We sent a large number of students and visiting scholars to the U.S. and engaged in a series of technical cooperation with the US, which was also the result of the changes in China.

'The Rise In China's Power' Has Impacted 'The Psychological State Of Americans;' 'We Should Welcome Foreign Capital... Our Adjustments In The Economic Sphere May Have Some Impact On The Biden Administration'

"The changes in Sino-U.S. relations in recent years are very closely related to the changes in China. I'm certainly not saying that China is more responsible for the deterioration of US-China relations; I don't mean that at all. But what cannot be ignored is the impact that the rise in China's power has had on the United States and on the psychological state of Americans. Some people say that the United States is in decline. I think if you compare countries other than China with the United States, it is difficult to say that the military power, economic power and technological power of the United States is in decline. When compared with China, however, one can say that its strength is indeed in decline. In this sense, China has changed the current status of US-China Relations.

"China has made some moves at home, especially since the 18th and 19th National Party Congresses, such as emphasizing the leadership of the Party, the 'Four Consciousnesses,' 'Two Safeguards,' 'Four Confidences,' and so on. The Americans pay a great deal of attention to all sorts of things happening in China. They feel that they do not see China moving in the direction they would like to see. Instead, they feel that the phenomenon they do not want to see is happening in China. This is not our problem, much less our responsibility. But what we do domestically and in the world largely determines the attitude of the United States toward us.

"If Biden is to bring some changes to Sino-U.S. relations, then we must grasp this opportunity to do certain things. But again, I don't think we're going to have major policy adjustments in terms of Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, the South China Sea, human rights, and we're not going to generate much responses to American demands. If there are any adjustments we can make now domestically that can have an impact on Sino-U.S. relationship, they will be the reforms we can make in the economic sphere, such as adjusting our policy on foreign capital. In regard to foreign trade, we should welcome foreign capital to enter the Chinese market. Our adjustments in the economic sphere may have some impact on the Biden administration. At the same time, we can make a significant impact on ecology, including the protection of the natural environment, and our proactive approach to climate change, which is also an important aspect that can improve Sino-U.S. relationship.

'Will The Sino-U.S. Relationship Become Better Or Worse If The Contrast In Power Between China And The United States Changes Further, Possibly In China's Favor?'

"Another question that comes to my mind is when we talk about the future development of Sino-U.S. relations, what are we mainly talking about? When I was working on my own projects, I used to consider the change in the contrast of power as a major factor in Sino-U.S. relationship, and talked a lot about the so-called 'Thucydides Trap.' But my thinking has changed recently, that is, I think the change in the strengths of China and the United States may not have as great an impact on Sino-U.S. relations as I originally thought. Will the Sino-U.S. relationship become better or worse if the contrast in power between China and the United States changes further, possibly in China's favor? Or if China encounters some obstacles along the way and the United States makes more progress in science and technology, to what extent will this affect the future direction of Sino-U.S. relations? I've thought about this for some time and haven't come up with anything worth discussing. Some people say that China is now stronger than the United States, or that China will grow faster than the United States in the next few years. So how will this affect Sino-U.S. relations? Will it make Sino-U.S. relations better or worse? I can't quite figure that one out. I would say that the changes that occur in China domestically on the political, economic and social fronts will probably have a greater impact than changes in the balance of power between the two sides.

"There is another issue that I would like to mention briefly, and that is the issue of the overseas Chinese in the U.S. There are now 5.5 million Chinese living in America. Of them, two million were born in China. They include the so-called first-generation immigrants and Chinese students currently studying in the US. These people are beginning to generate some impact on American politics. For instance, our biggest source of information in China right now on issues like Trump, Biden, and Sino-U.S. relations is the Chinese media, not the English media. How many of us are getting information from the English media in America? We basically look at Chinese media, including Chinese websites in the United States.

"Then, the question is, in identity politics, are the members of the Chinese diaspora loyal to China or to the United States? Do they tend to view the American society from the perspective of Chinese culture, or do they look at the American society through the lens of American values? This will actually become an important observation point for the future of Sino-U.S. relations. And the current rejection of, or prejudice against Chinese and Asian people in the American society also plays a role in the U.S. government's policy toward China.

'Considerations Of National Security Will Override Considerations Of Economic Interests'

"I believe that when it comes to territorial security and political security, we have very little room for compromise. But I think that economic and trade relations are still a fairly stable factor in Sino-U.S. relations. American entrepreneurs in particular still see China as an important market, one that is impossible to ignore, and humanistic exchanges between the two countries will perhaps resume slowly and to a limited extent.

"On the other hand, the economic and trade communities of both countries have certain expectations for the development of bilateral relations, and both hope that Sino-U.S. relationship will return to its past norm. This in turn involves our domestic issues. That is, we now attach great importance to China's political security, regime security, network security, and other such security issues, and U.S. considerations of national security have overridden considerations of economic interests. The U.S. government has repeatedly told American entrepreneurs that making money in China is tantamount to helping China's economic development, and that American companies should return to the United States and consider their business dealings' impact on U.S. national security, not forgetting that you are American companies.

"So, a problem arises in both countries. That is, to some extent, considerations of national security will override considerations of economic interests. As a result, I believe that the resumption of economic and trade relations between China and the United States or the resumption of humanistic exchanges will hardly change the new pattern of competition over cooperation in Sino-U.S. relations.

"I personally attach great importance to the issue of technology, which is the decisive factor in all aspects of competition between China and the United States. The reason why the United States has become a superpower and why the West has played a leading role in the world for quite a long period of time is because of their competitive edge in technology. From the steam engine and textile machines in the British industrial revolution to the Internet technology later, technological innovation has brought a lot of benefits to the West. We in China need to take a new step forward in technological innovation. Now, technological innovation has brought a lot of benefits to both countries, but it has also brought a lot of negative things to the bilateral relationship, and the negatives may outweigh the positives in Sino-U.S. relationship.

'China Is The More Decisive Party In The Sino-U.S. Relationship'

"I would like to conclude by emphasizing that we need to enhance our study of history and summarize our historical experience, and that the importance of history in international relations is something that needs to be further emphasized. When I was asked to give a lecture on what impact Biden's rise to power would have on Sino-U.S. relations, the first thing that came to my mind was what impact each new U.S. administration had on Sino-U.S. relations in the past? If the impact is not that great, then this is not a key factor. So what are the key factors? We need to look at it from the perspective of historical experience. For example, my view that China is the more decisive party in the Sino-U.S. relationship, that domestic political changes in both countries lead to changes in bilateral relationship is based on my observation of history.

"I am also very interested in the academic contributions of some scholars I respect. For example, I see that Mr. Xu Guoqi has proposed a "shared history" between the United States and China, a shared history that was shaped by non-governmental institutions or many individuals in both countries. Another young teacher is Wang Yuanchong, who recently published a new work on Sino-U.S. relations during the late Qing Dynasty, including the attitude of the late Qing government toward the U.S,, U.S. economic activities in China, missionary activities, etc. This is also very important.

"So I think it is very important to look more at the history in the study of Sino-U.S. relations. The Sino-U.S. relations in the late Qing Dynasty or the early years of the Republic of China is important, and the history of Sino-U.S. relations in the past few decades is equally important or more important. But there are not many research results in this area, and I hope that we can draw more lessons in this area to advance our understanding of Sino-U.S. relations and to advance our understanding of the United States."


[1], December 9, 2020.

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