With Joe Biden starting his term as president, China’s internet has lost one of its hottest topics: Donald Trump.
Popular commentators have spent much of the past four years tracking the China-US tech rivalry, debating the impact of US policies, and speculating about China’s potential responses. Now, as a new administration takes office, these commentators are asking whether anything will change.
While Biden has marked his first days in office by reversing many of Trump’s policies, he may well retain some of the Republican administration’s measures targeting China’s tech sector, which since 2017 have ranged from export controls to stock market delistings and social media app bans. After all, many of the country’s China policies have seen bipartisan support.
So far, the new administration has not revealed how it might approach China tech—heck, Biden has yet to pick an ambassador to China—but this hasn’t stopped China’s tech bloggers from speculating on what’s to come.
To get a glimpse of the sentiment among some Chinese tech commentators towards the new Biden administration, TechNode has dug up several popular online commentaries from the past few weeks. Spoiler: there’s much cynicism ahead.
In TechNode’s members-only translation column, we bring you selections from discussions about tech on the Chinese internet. TechNode has not independently verified the claims made below.
Same old, same old
On Jan. 20, Biden started his term in office with a flurry of executive orders reversing his predecessor’s policies. But to do so is akin to operating “on a dying person,” quips Luke Wen, a prominent Chinese tech blogger who has been described as “one of the most prominent techno-nationalist voices” in the country’s blogosphere.
Wen’s piece on the now-president’s swearing-in is titled “Biden Walks Into the Mausoleum,” suggesting that his presidency will be a doomed one. It is one of the most popular Biden-and-tech articles on WeChat, garnering at least 100,000 views (the maximum number that WeChat displays), around 3,800 “Likes,” and 2,500 “Wow” reactions.
Wen is not optimistic that Biden will work to ease tensions with China:
The US’s ultimate goal in re-emerging as the world’s policeman is still to suppress China’s rise as much as possible. Although Biden’s staff all outwardly tout a policy of “no Cold War, no decoupling” toward China, in actuality, they have already started a technological Cold War. The tech Cold War and the ideological war will be the main battlefields between the two countries: on one side, Biden’s team will keep making a fuss about Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, and on the other, they will strive to hem China in across all technological domains.
According to Wen, Biden will not lift restrictions on Huawei such as its ban from purchasing US-made chips, and may even further restrict Chinese tech companies in the US. Part of his disillusionment with the new president comes from Biden’s supposed inaction on China since assuming office. After all, the Democrat has yet to undo Trump’s acts of confrontation, such as the tariffs on Chinese products and the Jan. 14 blacklisting of Xiaomi and eight other companies.
There has been absolutely no sign of resolution […] Presumably […] these tariffs will just be used as a bargaining chip against China.
As of publication, Biden has been in office for just over two weeks.
Not everyone sees the US’s current attitude toward China as solely the legacy of the Republican former President Donald Trump. In an article titled “Comprehensive Adjustment! In the Biden Era, China and the US Will Duke it Out in Three Areas,” a blogger that goes by “Rongping” blames the Democrats for the tech war:
Many people may not be aware that the beating down of China’s ICT industry—as represented by Huawei—and the launch of the US-China tech war was […] the continuation of the Democratic Party’s established policies.
As evidence of this, Rongping brings up a White House advisory panel report released in the final days of the Obama administration on Jan. 6, 2017, calling for greater vigilance against Chinese attempts to dominate the semiconductor industry.
The report recommended that the US government tighten controls on exports to China and examine Chinese investment more closely, moves that the Trump administration has since implemented. Given that this Obama-era report predates Trump’s actions, Rongping claims:
From this, it can be seen that the Democratic Party is the driving force behind the tech war between the two countries!
The article has 53,800 views as of Feb. 3.
Driving force or not, the author does expect some changes with Biden in power:
- More reliance on IP claims against China rather than national security excuses, so that the US can establish a better international image
- More coordination by the US with its allies, and
- A more consistent line on policy, as opposed to Trump’s reversals
Rongping warns that the US isn’t going to ease its pressure on China.
Gearing up for round two
If Biden isn’t going to let China off the hook, what are Chinese businesses to do?
Not to worry, says one blogger. In “Hidden War: A Game With the Biden Administration,” which has accumulated at least 100,000 views, “Brother Cat” says the US is running out of ammunition.
The Trump administration has played just about every card in the deck!
Now, the Biden administration is in an awkward position. If it wants to adopt hardline tactics to counter China’s hardline stance, its choices are few and far between.
Escalate the trade war? No luck, Brother Cat says: China’s busy forging ahead with two giant trade agreements, namely the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) among Asia-Pacific nations and another on EU investment. Escalate the tech war? “China’s made ample preparations there too,” Brother Cat claims.
This “preparation,” he explains, is China’s new sanctions blocking regime, also known as a “blocking statute,” which the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) released in January and formally calls “Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extra-territorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures.”
The new rules discourage companies from complying with US sanctions by allowing their business partners to sue for lost revenue in Chinese courts.
It’s still unclear how Beijing plans to enforce the rules, but the blog claims:
The biggest financial backers of Biden’s election are tech companies. If the US does not lift controls against Chinese businesses […] then these US tech companies will face an unending stream of compensation lawsuits.
If the US turns a deaf ear to China’s preconditions, then this law will probably be swiftly implemented.
Other commentators were also drawn to the new blocking statute. Popular tech news blog Chaping suggested it should be used to retaliate for one of the last salvos of the Trump administration, namely the blacklisting of Xiaomi for its alleged links to the Chinese military. In “The US Sanctions Xiaomi, This Time China Can Finally Fight Back!” the author claims that the proposed blocking statute:
Exists precisely to prevent the US from abusing “long-arm jurisdiction” to infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises.
Rather than focus on Biden, the Chaping article places Trump front and center, suggesting that his legacy could continue to define the US government. When the new president is mentioned, it is only to discourage fellow Chinese from anticipating any potential goodwill:
We cannot hang our hopes on other nations “discovering their conscience.” […] At the very least, [the blocking statute] allows Chinese companies to no longer tread as if on thin ice in the US, worrying constantly that at the next moment, this hegemonic sledgehammer disguised as “fairness” will smash upon their heads.
A few high hopes for Biden
Is there anyone in the China tech sector who is bullish on Biden?
There are certainly optimistic voices, like this author (45,000 views) who argues that Biden will increase immigration by raising US visa caps and giving green cards directly to PhD graduates in science and tech:
Under Biden’s leadership, the odds that more new policies beneficial to international students will be rolled out is extremely high […] the US government will, within the next four years, provide an even friendlier environment for numerous international students and scholars to pursue research and studies.
There is also this article (29,000 views) that suggests Biden “may break the Trump-era tariffs and tech blockade” and that “Huawei’s chip supply disruption and sanctions against Chinese companies will most likely improve,” though the author expects Biden to rework the global economic framework in favor of the US.
But online, voices willing to venture optimism about a US-China tech detente are harder to find. Unless the US president takes significant steps to loosen restrictions from the Trump era, Chinese commentary is likely to stay cynical.