Donald Trump or Joe Biden, whoever wins the election, China loses

Both have promised to take tough measures on the communist country.

There will be at least one good outcome of Election Day: Whoever wins, communist China will lose.

Whether it’s Joe Biden or Donald Trump, the next president of the United States will likely take a hard line on China. Both candidates have staked out claims to have the tougher policy. This competition is good for American interests — China is the greatest threat to America’s security, economy and values — and while it should have happened years ago, it’s better late than never.

How did this bipartisan unity come about? Much of the credit goes to the American people. While the political class has spent the better part of four decades cozying up to China and expanding diplomatic, economic and cultural ties, Americans have maintained a steady hostility toward the world’s communist standard-bearer. With rare exceptions, public opinion has been unfavorable toward Beijing for 30 years straight. Following the coronavirus pandemic and the Chinese crackdown on Hong Kong, that opposition has reached a record, with two-thirds of Americans now holding an unfavorable view of China.

Trump’s dealings with China

Donald Trump was the first to follow the American people’s lead. He made China a centerpiece of his campaign in 2016. As president, his record has been a mixed bag, both in words and deeds, but on the whole, he has shifted America’s China policy in a much more aggressive and assertive direction.

The bad must come first. Trump has rhetorically put his friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping above America’s interests — even though his verbal appreciation for the dictator is surely not reciprocated. Trump has also fallen short on human rights early on.

Confronted with China’s mass detention of the Muslim Uighurs, Trump refused to take action, lest it jeopardize trade talks. Similarly, as China began eroding Hong Kong’s freedom, Trump refused to lend America’s support to the city’s protest movement. He even pledged to President Xi that he would remain silent, according to CNN.

His silence became assent, emboldening China. (Trump has been similarly foolish on North Korea; his ongoing flirtation with Kim Jong Un has given that regime the time it craved to build its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.)

Fortunately, Trump reversed course after public outcry. Over the summer, his administration has rolled out strong sanctions on China for its oppression of the Uighurs and Hong Kong. As a result, the Trump administration has led the world in punishing China for its human rights atrocities. The United States led the way on sanctioning Chinese officials for their oppression in Xinjiang.

In other areas, the Trump record is much better:

Trump’s efforts to bring back manufacturing and punish Chinese companies that have stolen American intellectual property (e.g., Huawei) are necessary responses to a country that seeks to succeed at the United States’ expense.

A second Trump term would surely further break American ties with China. But the same would likely be true under Biden.

Biden’s stance on China

As with Trump, Biden has some serious baggage. In his more than 45 years as a senator and vice President, he broadly supported the integration of America and China. President Xi referred to the vice president in 2013 as “my old friend.” Yet, while Biden has not repudiated his actions and votes over the decades, he looks set to support a China policy that is far less friendly and far more confrontational.

In what should be seen as a compliment, Biden’s China policy has been described as “look(ing) a lot like Trump’s.” He is prepared to continue American economic pressure on China. He often speaks of improving global coordination in the campaign against Beijing. (“Mr. Biden says he would work more closely than Mr. Trump has to rally allies in a coordinated global campaign to pressure Beijing,” The Wall Street Journal writes.) 

The former vice president has also spoken strongly and clearly about China’s human rights abuses, to the point of calling the oppression of the Uighurs “genocide.”

These are all positive signs that accord with America’s clear national interests.

As recently as five years ago, such words and promises were almost never heard from America’s leaders. Now, both Republicans and Democrats are beating the same drum. The political class has followed the country in realizing that the United States finds itself in another Cold War — a second struggle against a communist country that seeks nothing less than America’s destruction. This realization came far later than it should have, and whoever wins on Election Day, the American people must demand that the next president fulfills his promise to be tough on communist China.

Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.