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What China's Expecting With A Biden Presidency

NOEL KING, HOST:

The outgoing Trump administration has taken a lot of action against China recently. This week, it sanctioned 14 Chinese officials. All of them are senior members of parliament. Beijing responded with sanctions of their own and also changed visa rules for U.S. diplomats. But Beijing is taking a fairly measured response while it waits for a Biden administration. Here's NPR's John Ruwitch.

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: When China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman addressed the latest U.S. sanctions, Beijing's frustration was clear.

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HUA CHUNYING: (Through interpreter) The Chinese government and people express strong indignation to and strongly condemn the outrageous, unscrupulous, crazy and vile act of the U.S. side.

RUWITCH: The Trump administration takes pride in being tough on China. Two years ago, it launched a trade war. This year, it stepped up the barrage. It sanctioned Chinese officials and companies over human rights abuses. It banned Chinese apps on national security grounds. And it closed a Chinese consulate over suspected corporate espionage. Some analysts say that with the clock running down, the administration is hustling to cement its legacy. On Wednesday, in a speech at Georgia Tech, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo harped on the threat he sees from China.

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MIKE POMPEO: Our administration, President Trump should be given credit for having faced this. It would be the first administration to truly identify this.

RUWITCH: And he says he expects Trump's approach to last.

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POMPEO: I think this will be policy for the United States and indeed for Western democracies for an awfully long time.

RUWITCH: Beijing thinks so too. Sun Zhe is a Chinese political scientist and visiting scholar at Columbia University. He explains a shift in Chinese policy circles.

SUN ZHE: We used to have a lot of debates on how to deal with the United States, but now it's a consensus. Whether Republicans or Democrats, whether Trump or Bidens, there is a anti-China sentiment consensus, so you have to be strong. You have to deal with it.

RUWITCH: But you have to deal with it carefully, he says. What China's leaders want from Biden and beyond is a return of stability.

SUN: They are very clear. They want to fix the relationship. They think that working with the United States, a good U.S.-China relationship's good for China itself.

RUWITCH: The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman may have used choice words to lash out at America, but more senior officials have been more restrained. That includes Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who addressed American businesses on Monday.

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WANG YI: (Speaking Mandarin.)

RUWITCH: He said the next period of China-U.S. relations should take a path that benefits both countries and rebuilds mutual trust. Political science professor Jack Zhang at the University of Kansas says China knows it can't afford to escalate the feud with the U.S.

JACK ZHANG: If you say, look; businessmen are no longer welcome here because, you know, you're mistreating our people; we're just not going to let them in, what's going to happen? Right? It's going to cause a massive disruption in China's own economy.

RUWITCH: And China's leader, Xi Jinping, has something else to think about - managing nationalist sentiment. James Green, a former U.S. official who worked on China, says Xi has to tread carefully when it comes to public opinion about the U.S.

JAMES GREEN: If you open up a can of anti-American whoop-ass, you can't put that back in the bottle. And that's why I think they don't do it. It's not because they respect American power. It's for their own domestic political concerns.

RUWITCH: China may need the U.S. now, Green says, but that may not be the case as China's military and technological strength continue to grow along with its global clout.

GREEN: I mean, at some point, I think the Chinese leadership will say, yeah, we don't really care about the U.S. that much.

RUWITCH: But for the next decade, at least, Green expects Beijing will be doing a balancing act no matter who's in the White House.

John Ruwitch, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LNS' "KABELJAU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.