HONG KONG (Reuters Breakingviews) - American elections are closely watched in China, but this time the outcome of the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3 may matter less to Beijing. U.S. President Donald Trump’s tough act on China has wrought little real damage. And while neither he nor his challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, is likely to thaw relations, the fumbling of the pandemic has left the U.S. more at risk.
Trump has set out to weaken China with policies that were a pillar of his presidency since he took office in 2017. A trade war dented some aspects of commerce with America, but elsewhere is helping to make up for it. Exports are surging to Europe and Asia – making the punishments he’s affected look wobbly. The intended ban on Chinese social app TikTok is facing judicial pushback at home that could continue to contradict Trump’s orders. And many U.S. firms are still exhibiting clear reluctance to exit China, exemplified by Tesla’s latest investment in a Shanghai factory.
Meanwhile the country led by President Xi Jinping has also emerged much stronger from the virus, in what many citizens see as China’s institutional strength, demonstrated by its tougher pandemic response. Most of the country is now free of Covid-19, with an impressive economic rebound of 4.9% in the July-to-September quarter. Despite that the U.S. economy appears to be bouncing back too, based on numbers that were released Thursday, it is facing another surge and lockdowns are being threatened in various cities across the country just as the winter months take hold.
U.S. pressure on China will continue if Trump is the winner next week. Biden, meanwhile, may look to mend fences with foreign allies who can take a more coordinated approach to weakening the presumed adversary. The People’s Republic remained the subject for blame during much of the final presidential debate last week, at least one sign that whoever occupies the Oval Office will remain tough on China. And Washington has more cards to play, including implementing a law that could force Chinese companies to delist from U.S. stock exchanges.
Still Beijing seems ready to play tough. Xi recently spoke at the anniversary of the deployment of Chinese troops to fight against U.S. forces in the Korean War, warning of consequences if the Chinese people are “trifled with”. His economy still depends on others – including the U.S. But as long as it remains relatively strong, China has less to worry about for now.
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