However, US-China ties could deteriorate during the transition to a Biden presidency, according to Verisk Maplecroft

Although US President-Elect Joe Biden has yet to unveil his full foreign policy team, a range of policy priorities are already clear. A return to multilateralism and greater emphasis on climate change are just two signicant departures from ‘America First’ under President Donald Trump, notes a briefing from Verisk Maplecroft.

However, Trump still has some 60 days remaining in office. Recent measures – including a ban on US investment in 31 military-linked Chinese companies – suggests that the outgoing administration will likely continue making foreign policy moves right up until inauguration day in January 2021. 

How US-China relations evolve under Biden will partially depend on the situation that the president-elect inherits. Reflecting the high potential for deterioration during the transition, Verisk Maplecroft assigns a 24% probability to the US and China engaging in a ‘militarised dispute’ – an event encompassing the threat, display or use of force – before President Trump departs the White House.

”A key driver behind our assumption is that we expect Trump to direct much of his ire towards China; the source of the pandemic that ultimately sealed his electoral defeat,” notes Verisk. “While a Biden White House is unlikely to escalate Trump’s trade war, pressure from Congress suggests that it is also unlikely to oversee an immediate rollback of import tariffs against Chinese goods. Nor is it likely to let up pressure on Huawei and other state-backed companies as the two superpowers battle for tech supremacy.”

”The South China Sea, Taiwan and human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang will all remain flashpoints. While strategic competition between the US and China will continue, the biggest change will likely be the tactics the White House deploys to manage China’s rise. We expect the Biden administration to adopt a multilateral approach and strengthen security cooperation with regional partners such as Japan, Australia and India.”

A Biden presidency promises to strengthen relations with Japan and South Korea. President Trump viewed diplomacy with Seoul and Tokyo as largely transactional, and his White House repeatedly threatened both countries with trade restrictions and requested more financial support for hosting US troops.

The Trump administration has lost ground to Beijing via its tendency not to show up for major ASEAN summits, failure to appoint key diplomatic personnel and tariff threats. 

”A Biden administration is unlikely to join either of the recently concluded regional trade deals – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacic Partnership (CPTTP) or the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – due to domestic opposition. This lack of an economic string to the US bow will leave China as the trade and investment partner of choice for many South-East Asian states,” concludes Verisk.