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A resetting of China-US relations?

Last week saw Donald Trump quit the political stage, at least for now, after four tumultuous years and the inauguration of Joe Biden as President.

However, prior to leaving office the outgoing administration notified a long list of suppliers to Huawei, including Intel, that it was revoking licenses to sell to the Chinese tech giant as well as rejecting new applications.

The decision continued down a well-worn path by which the US administration has looked to weaken the company, which is seen as a serious national security threat to both the US and other western democracies. The Commerce Department said that it was simply applying licensing policies in a way that protected US national security and foreign policy interests.

According to media reports the Semiconductor Industry Association said that the Commerce Department had also issued “intents to deny a significant number of license requests for exports to Huawei and a revocation of at least one previously issued license,” spanning a ‘broad range’ of products.

The United States put Huawei on a Commerce Department “entity list” in May 2019, restricting suppliers from selling US goods and technology to it.

Will the Biden administration row back on these hardline policies towards China and will it look to re-set the relationship?

Considering the noises coming out of Washington it’s unlikely.

China remains the US’s biggest commercial competitor and, according to Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen, the Biden administration is prepared to use the “full array of tools” available to it in order to curb what it sees as China’s economic malfeasance, whether that’s the dumping of cheap products in foreign markets, illegally subsidising domestic companies, imposing trade barriers or stealing intellectual property.

The US will look to address unfair trade practices, for sure, but according to Yellen it will look to work with its allies rather than embrace the unilateral negotiations and aggressive penalties of the past four years.

Biden and his incoming administration have offered little insight into how they plan to push back against China and, so far, he has not said whether he would keep, lift or adjust Trump’s tariffs on Chinese products.

In truth, Trump’s confrontational approach didn’t really achieve a great deal, whatever the spin put on it.

Looking to the future the US relationship with China is likely to remain troubled but, according to analysts, whatever the Biden administration decides it is more likely to be based on reason and fact, rather than the overblown rhetoric of the Trump years.

Whether it is possible to reset China-US relations though, remains in doubt.

Neil Tyler

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