South China Sea: Biden to use Donald Trump's Beijing pressure tools to mirror hard stance

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Pressure campaigns against China over the past four years may give incoming president Joe Biden “substantial leverage” in negotiations with the nation amid South China Sea turbulence, according to Eswar Prasad, a former China expert at the International Monetary Fund. Mr Biden is due to take control of the White House in January next year following his election win last month.

It has prompted speculation about how the incoming president will approach the US’ relations with China, which have been turbulent in recent times.

Since taking office, Donald Trump has taken a tough stance on China including slapping tariffs worth hundreds of billions of dollars – $370 billion, according to Bloomberg – on imports from the nation.

The president has also targeted Chinese tech firms such as Huawei, putting them on a blacklist that limits how they can do business with US companies.

In addition, earlier this year US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo set out the US’ critical stance on China’s controversial territorial assertions in the South China Sea.

Now, experts say Joe Biden can use the pressure build up from Mr Trump’s administration to hold leverage in talks.

Eswar Prasad told Bloomberg: “Trump’s broad trade sanctions against China coupled with pushback from other countries against China’s aggressive geopolitical diplomacy will give the Biden administration substantial leverage when it commences bilateral negotiations.”

READ: Donald Trump ‘squandered’ chance to end North Korea’s nuclear programme – top scientist

Ding Duo, deputy director of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies’ Research Center for Oceans Law and Policy in China, told the South China Morning Post the Biden administration is expected to “return to a more multilateralist and ‘lawfare’-based approach in the South China Sea”.

Last week, it was reported that top advisers to Mr Biden had stressed the US should co-operate with China on space exploration.

One such adviser is Pam Melroy, a former US astronaut who is said to be in the running for head of Nasa under Mr Biden.

Ms Melroy told Politico ahead of last month’s US election it would be a “failing strategy” to try and exclude China from the US’ space operations.

Meanwhile, in the South China Sea specifically, China and the US have had a tense relationship over the island nation of Taiwan.

Analysts say China claims sovereignty over Taiwan, though Taiwan itself is governed separately and has complained of Beijing’s warplanes flying too near to its airspace.

Taiwan also recently started construction of a fleet of new submarines in order to boost its defense.

The US, meanwhile, has sent multiple officials to Taiwan over the past few months, including US Undersecretary of State Keith Krach.

China warned it “resolutely opposes” any official exchanges between the two nations.

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