Expected Developments in China-US Relations Under Re-elected Trump Administration

Trump’s China policy tends to embrace a unilateral approach parallel to his overall foreign policy strategy.
Biden sees technology as the key element of strategic competition with China.
Trump’s prominent “America First” principle in both domestic and foreign policies directly influence his policy towards China.


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In recent years, China-United States of America (USA) relations have turned into direct competition and overt disagreements in many global issues or domains. With the presidential elections in the United States scheduled for November 2024, it has become a matter of curiosity as to who will have a greater impact on the existing China-US rivalry. Recent polls have indicated that Biden is trailing behind Trump.[1] This raises questions about the direction in which China-US relations will evolve if Trump wins the election.

Trump’s China policy tends to embrace a unilateral approach parallel to his overall foreign policy strategy. This inclination leads Trump to focus on direct bilateral negotiations with China considering his own concerns. Additionally, Trump’s prominent “America First” principle in both domestic and foreign policies directly influence his policy towards China. Trump’s reluctance to involve America in costly wars under the “America First” principle, coupled with his talk of withdrawal from partnerships and diminishing ties with regional allies of the United States, helps alleviate pressures on China.

Trump has been seen criticizing defense agreements with Japan and South Korea and threatening to withdraw some USA troops stationed in these allied countries.[2] Analysts suggest that the decrease in American alliances in the region, including designs concerning Taiwan’s self-governing democracy, would be advantageous to China.[3] On the other hand, the “America First” mantra has led Trump to adopt protectionist strategies to support USA manufacturing, intensifying the USA-China trade war. A prominent feature of USA-China relations during the Trump era has been the short-term maintenance of areas where cooperation or partnership could be achieved, while unresolved issues have directly turned into conflict.

Trump, with the National Security Strategy he announced in late 2017, initiated direct competition between Washington and Beijing by defining China as a “rival” and “revisionist power”.[4] This strategy includes challenging China in various areas such as trade warfare. Especially in the final year of the Trump administration, more uncertainty and direct conflict elements have been added to China-USA relations. Trump deliberately heightened security concerns, including the Taiwan Strait, imposed punitive tariffs on Chinese goods, and imposed extensive restrictions on Chinese technology companies, such as Huawei, ZTE, and TikTok, causing serious damage to bilateral relations.[5]

Unlike Trump’s sudden, short-term, and unilateral tough policies, the Biden administration is striving to base competition with China on a more sustainable and long-term policy, while safeguarding US interests. In addition, unlike Trump, Biden is willing to maintain the necessary strategic communication with China and seek cooperation on various issues, such as climate change.

Biden sees technology as the key element of strategic competition with China. In this regard, he is attempting to restrict access to technological products by imposing restrictions and sanctions on Chinese entities. After taking office, he largely maintained the tariffs imposed during the Trump era and subsequently added a series of policies aimed at preventing the import of American high technology and finance from China, used to enhance China’s military and technological capabilities.[6] While Biden may not increase tariffs on China, it is believed that he could significantly reduce China’s ability to produce high-tech products. Additionally, on the Taiwan issue, Biden has occasionally stated that the United States would militarily defend the island if it were attacked, presenting himself as a staunch supporter of Taiwan. Trump has suggested that the next Biden administration may see “a more successful multilateral, collaborative effort aimed at constraining China”.[7]

Trump has promised to return to a hardline policy stance against Beijing by designating China as a rival. During his election campaign, he raised speculation that he could impose tariffs of up to 60% on Chinese imports to combat what he sees as unfair trade practices and could cancel the fundamental status of “permanently normalized trade relations”.[8] Trump’s return with massive trade tariffs will negatively affect the Chinese economy. This would push Chinese leaders to establish closer relations with alternative markets. Furthermore, Trump has stated that if he were to be re-elected, Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) would be “dead on first day”.[9] Disrupting this framework signed by 13 regional countries under Biden’s leadership to balance against China’s economic influence could also undermine America’s partnerships with other countries.

Trump’s anti-China rhetoric during his election campaign suggests the possibility of initiating a second trade war. However, it is evident that the trade war has inflicted more harm than benefit on the US economy. The high tariffs imposed on Chinese goods have neither increased US production nor reduced the trade deficit with China. Instead, US companies and consumers have borne the burden of the tariffs on Chinese imports, leading to higher costs for businesses and a significant decline in the international competitiveness of US products.[10]

Approximately a year ago, most rural Republicans rejected Trump’s proposal to impose new tariffs on Chinese imports and concerned Republicans cautiously aligned with various Democrats against such a possibility, indicating further divisions among Republicans. This suggests that initiating a new trade war with China will further deepen the divisions among Republicans. This also indicates that the new era of strategic competition between the US and China will focus more on technology rather than trade wars.

Miles Yu, Director of the China Center at Hudson Institute, has stated that the United States has reached a bipartisan agreement on China and that both sides share “pretty much the same China policy”.[11] As a result, regardless of who is elected in the 2024 presidential election, they will continue to view China as their main rival and maintain tough policies against China. While differences in immediate policy responses may distinguish Trump from Biden in the short term, in the long run, US policies towards China may not differ significantly between Trump and Biden. However, Trump’s sudden and short-term policies make him an unpredictable force, and this means that China needs to be more prepared.

[1] “Biden slightly behind Trump but voters’ views of economy improve, poll shows”, The Guardian,, (Date of Access: 20.03.2024).

[2] “China is worried about the return of Trump, but it also sees opportunities if he wins”, CNN,, (Date of Access: 20.03.2024).

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Biden vs Trump: Who Would Have a Bigger Impact on China-US Relations?”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Access: 19.03.2024).

[5] Ibid.

[6] “China is worried about the return of Trump, but it also sees opportunities if he wins”, CNN,, (Date of Access: 20.03.2024).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Trump vows to kill Asia trade deal being pursued by Biden if elected”, Reuters,, (Date of Access: 21.03.2024).

[10] “Would Donald Trump Start a China-US Trade War 2.0?”, The Diplomat,, (Date of Access: 21.03.2024).

[11] “China sees two ‘bowls of poison’ in Biden and Trump and ponders who is the lesser of two evils”, AP,, (Date of Access: 22.03.2024).

Ezgi Köklen graduated from Middle East Technical University Northern Cyprus Campus, Department of Political Science and International Relations in 2023 as a high honours student with her graduation project “Role of the Belt and Road Initiative in China's Middle East Policy”. Before graduating, she studied at Myongji University in South Korea for a semester as an exchange student in the Department of Political Science and Diplomacy. After graduation, she travelled to China for his master's degree. She is currently pursuing her master's degree in Chinese Politics, Foreign Policy and International Relations at Tsinghua University. Her research interests include East Asian security, Chinese foreign policy, and regional cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. Ezgi speaks advanced English, intermediate Korean and beginner Chinese.

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