Monday, 30 Nov 2020

Chinese State Media Reacts to Biden Victory With Cautious Optimism

HONG KONG — The Chinese state news media reacted with cautious optimism to former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory in the United States presidential election, expressing hope that he would stabilize the fast-deteriorating relations between the two countries.

But many outlets also continued to warn of future tensions between the superpowers, and to suggest that American democracy was in decline.

Under President Trump, trust and cooperation between the United States and China ebbed to their lowest levels in recent history, as a trade war raged and officials on both sides hurled recriminations about espionage, protest movements and the coronavirus pandemic. China’s state-controlled news outlets had criticized Mr. Trump and the United States with increasing stridence in recent months.

But the immediate reaction to Mr. Biden’s victory on Sunday was measured, indicating that China was willing to attempt, and indeed was eager for, a thaw.

“The outcome could usher in a ‘buffering period’ for already-tense China-U.S. relations, and offer an opportunity for breakthroughs in resuming high-level communication and rebuilding mutual strategic trust,” Global Times, a fiercely nationalistic tabloid, wrote in an article, citing Chinese experts.

The article suggested that the two countries could work together on combating climate change, containing the coronavirus and developing vaccines, saying that Mr. Biden would be “more moderate and mature” than Mr. Trump on foreign affairs.

That echoed the response in much of the rest of the world, where many world leaders breathed sighs of relief at the election’s outcome. Mr. Biden has promised a restoration of normalcy and a renewed commitment to multilateralism.

Global Times noted that international sense of relief in a tweet, noting that the leaders of Canada, Britain, France, India and Germany had already congratulated Mr. Biden. “The Trump era is seemingly over,” it said.

But even as Chinese propaganda signaled a new phase in U.S.-China relations, it also continued to push a narrative of American decline — a constant refrain in recent months, as an increasingly wealthy and confident China has tried to market itself to the rest of the world as a viable alternative for global leadership.

In particular, the state media has fixated on protests in American cities — starting this summer with the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, through the protests surrounding the election — as proof that American democracy is chaotic.

After Mr. Biden won Pennsylvania, and thus the presidency, CCTV, the state broadcaster, aired videos of large crowds in Philadelphia on Saturday evening and a heavy police presence. An anchor declared that there had been “not only verbal attacks but also even physical clashes” between Trump and Biden supporters. (In reality, there were few reports of violent confrontations.)

Hu Xijin, the editor of Global Times, pointed to Mr. Trump’s refusal to concede, writing on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, that “American society is now highly divided, which creates the soil for further political derailment.”

The outlets had been emphasizing the potential for political violence all week as the vote counts trickled in. Since Election Day, the Chinese state media had shared photos of boarded-up businesses and police officers on watch at poll sites.

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At the time the race was called, the second top trending topic on Weibo was the drive-by shooting of two people attending a pro-Trump rally in Florida on Friday. Few posts mentioned that the shots fired were pellet rounds, or that the two people were treated for minor injuries and released.

Some state-controlled outlets had seemed to revel in the instability. Just minutes before the race was called for Mr. Biden on Saturday, People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, had mocked Mr. Trump’s declared refusal to accept the election results.

Mr. Trump, about an hour earlier, had tweeted, falsely, that he had won the election. The People’s Daily account retweeted that post, adding the comment, “HaHa” and a laughing emoji.

That provocative rhetoric had largely ebbed by Sunday, in a reflection of the hopes for a reset. Many major state-controlled outlets offered straight news coverage of Mr. Biden’s victory speech in Delaware. China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately offer a comment on the outcome. People’s Daily deleted its tweet.

Still, those that did venture optimism also warned against excessive expectations. Though Mr. Trump had made demonizing China a central plank of his campaign rhetoric — especially as he tried to deflect blame for his disastrous response to the coronavirus outbreak — public opinion toward China in both parties has increasingly soured.

And geopolitical tensions between the two countries will most likely continue to simmer. The Global Times article pointed to unresolved disputes over the democracy movement in Hong Kong, the trade war and Taiwan.

Southern Daily, an official newspaper for the southern province of Guangdong, wrote on Weibo that while Mr. Biden would most likely treat Russia, not China, as the biggest foreign threat to the United States, “we don’t have to have illusions.”

“One thing is for sure, things will never return to the way they were before,” the post continued. “The world is not the world it was before.”

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