China on Monday held off on acknowledging Joe Biden as the winner of the US presidential election, saying the outcome of the vote was still to be determined and it would follow custom in responding.
The Democratic Party’s Biden won enough seats to win the tightly fought election but incumbent President Donald Trump has not yet accepted defeat and has filed lawsuits against the outcome.
“We noticed that Mr Biden has declared election victory,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a daily media briefing.
“We understand that the US presidential election result will be determined following US law and procedures,” he said.
The Reuters news agency pointed out in a report that in 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping had sent congratulations to Donald Trump soon after his election.
Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist state-run tabloid, Global Times, said in a tweet: “China hasn’t congratulated Biden on his victory as quickly as Western countries did.”
“I think it’s because China needs to keep larger distance from the US presidential election to avoid getting entangled in its controversy. This actually shows that China respects the US as a whole,” he added.
Relations between China and the US are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong, Taiwan, human rights in Xinjiang and the coronavirus.
“We always believe that China and the United States should enhance communication and dialogue, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, expand cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit and promote sound and stable development of bilateral relations,” Wang said.
Chinese state media, however, has struck a cautious note of optimism ahead of his presidency, saying fraught bilateral ties have a chance to revert to a state of predictability.
Separate editorials in leading state-run dailies indicated that trade would be an important focus in improving bilateral ties under Biden while acknowledging that Washington was unlikely to ease pressure on Beijing on issues like human rights.
The state-run China Daily, in an editorial headlined “Relations can be reset for the better”, said that there is to be “…a resetting of relations, the trade deal is clearly the point to start from.”
“Despite the popular assumption that trade no longer functions as the ‘ballast’ for China-US relations as it has over the past decades, it is one of the last threads linking the two sides,” the editorial said, adding: “It is notable that neither Beijing nor Washington has ventured to scrap the hard-earned so-called phase one deal they negotiated.”
The Global Times said the US was unlikely to ease pressure on China on issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong but added that Beijing should work to communicate with the Biden team as thoroughly as it can.
The Trump administration had deliberately created tensions in China-U.S. relations, especially after adopting a campaign strategy of pressuring China, which led to “bubbles” occurring in U.S.-China policy, it said.
“We believe it is possible to pop those bubbles. Beijing should undertake to communicate with the Biden team as thoroughly as it can, making greater joint efforts to recover China-US relations to a state of great predictability.”
In terms of the economy and trade, Biden is highly likely to continue Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, but probably not with reckless gambling-style moves, the Global Times editorial said.
“In the past few years, the US has adopted some clumsy measures that have hurt both itself and others…A change in administration might bring some pragmatic attempts of adjustment in this regard based on realities,” it said.
Meanwhile, US politics and election continued to trend on Weibo over the weekend with related topics racking up hundreds of millions of views on China’s Twitter-like social media platform.
“American politics is flavour of the day on Chinese social media since voting began in person Tuesday. By Nov. 5 the hashtag “U.S. presidential election” racked up 7 billion views on Weibo. Also popular are “Top online search in America on polling day is how to move to Canada” and “Trump and Biden supporters clash outside the White House” with combined views numbering around 200 million,” the news and business website, Caixin.com reported.