Notes de l'Ifri Asie Visions
Charles-Emmanuel DETRY

The China dilemma from Trump to Biden: one consensus and three worldviews Asie.Visions, No. 122, July 2021

The United States underwent a fundamental transformation in its stance on China during the Trump presidency.


This shift is perceived as the expression in Washington of a new consensus on the failure of 40 years of engagement. The policy stands accused of having enabled the rise of an alarmingly powerful China, without rendering it any less dictatorial than in the past. As a result, Sino-American antagonism is deemed inevitable and stands as a given for the new Biden administration.

Yet, this seemingly unanimous diagnosis (China is the enemy) does not lead to an agreement on the policy to be implemented (how should this enemy be dealt with?). An assessment of the past four years reveals hesitations that can not be solely attributed to the former president’s idiosyncrasies. As argued below, this indecisiveness is the product of three conflicting tendencies that differ in how they project the kind of international order in which the United States and China may coexist.

According to the first initiatives of Joe Biden’s new team, the introduction of a narrative of struggle between democracies and autocracies and the persistent need for cooperation place the Democrats in front of the same dilemma as their predecessors’.


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Donald Trump Joe Biden Sino-American rivalry Xi Jinping China United States