The Democrats will retake the US House of Representatives, dealing a major blow to President Donald Trump’s domestic agenda, but if anxious politicians in Beijing think that means a reprieve from the White House, they should think again, report agencies.
China is one of the few policy areas where there is some bipartisan consensus. The Democrats broadly agree that the US should take tougher action against the rising power across a range of fronts, from the military, to trade, intelligence and diplomacy.
Desperate for a solution to the trade war that is weighing on China’s economy, there is a view in China that a Democrat-led House might mean a softer stance against Beijing.
Nick Marro, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that view was misguided because the Democrats have historically been more pro-labor unions and less in favor of unconstrained free trade than their opponents. “It’s unlikely that they’ll push for greater trade engagement with China,” he said.
Even if the House wanted to, the power to slap tariffs on China is essentially vested in the executive – that’s President Trump. If he needs support from Congress on China policy in the future, the Democrats have shown few signs they’ll stand in his way. All this is bad news for Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose government has been scrambling to appease an increasingly hostile US administration, after attempts at flattery and acts of friendship early in Trump’s term didn’t quite deliver. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment directly on the election result on Wednesday, saying regardless of the outcome China “won’t change its recognition of the importance of China-US relations.”
Beyond the economic implications, the optics of the row with Trump are also hurting Xi at home.
Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Center for China Studies and well-connected political analyst, said Xi has faced rare criticism from inside the ruling Communist Party for his handling of the US crisis.
“He has been widely criticized, not by name of course, but subtly, for failing to handle Trump’s multi-pronged challenge. He’s very much on the defensive,” Lam said.
The trade war between the US and China that Trump ignited in the middle of the year steadily worsened over months, with tariffs now on more than $250 billion of Chinese goods.
But it was a landmark speech by US Vice President Mike Pence in early October that marked the start of a new aggressive policy against Beijing, sparking talk of a new Cold War.