The Debate | Opinion

After a Humbling Election Experience, Will the US Change Its Tune on China?

The 2020 U.S. election undermines Washington’s bid to act as a beacon for the world.

Jin Kai
After a Humbling Election Experience, Will the US Change Its Tune on China?
Credit: USDA photo by Lance Cheung

Putting aside the outcome, the 2020 U.S. election has already sent a substantially confusing message to the world: The United States, which has always proclaimed itself as the benchmark and beacon of the democratic world, has seen its pride hit hard by the crumbling of its system.

U.S. legislators on Capitol Hill and hawks from the White House alike are fond of making all kinds of accusations and criticisms about political affairs outside the United States, including allegations of injustice, corruption, and disinformation. Moreover, under the cover of non-governmental organizations (such as the National Endowment for Democracy, which has been incredibly active in reaching out to other countries, regions, and societies), a great number of election monitoring teams and activists have been dispatched from the United States and its allies to election sites around the world. Even amid COVID-19 pandemic that is sweeping the entire world, NED declared that it has invested $254 million in various activities in 100 countries and regions around the world during the fiscal year 2020, involving 1,995 projects. That is a record high.

However, even as the United States remains “deeply concerned” about political affairs in other areas – for example, it continues to impose sanctions in many places including Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China – the widely followed general election at home has called into question claims of the U.S. system’s supposed superiority.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his team have accused, criticized, and even attempted to overturn through litigation the historic general election, which he claims, without evidence, was full of fraud, manipulation, corruption, and disinformation. Even now, Trump has still refused to admit that he was defeated. What kind of message could this strange situation be sending to the world? After seeing the actions and words of the president of the United States this time, on what grounds can further accusations be made by U.S. elites against political affairs in other countries and regions?

Once again, this reminds me of the differences between China and the United States regarding their respective political systems. There are no perfect systems in human societies, be it political, economic, or ideological. Political systems are deeply rooted in the different histories and cultures of various societies, so they may take different forms. There is no single universal standard that can apply to the entire world.

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During his visit to China in 1984, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave a remarkable speech. The following is part of his remarks:

…there’s much that naturally divides us: time and space, different languages and values, different cultures and histories, and political systems that are fundamentally different. It would be foolish not to acknowledge these differences. There’s no point in hiding the truth for the sake of a friendship, for a friendship based on fiction will not long withstand the rigors of this world. But let us, for a moment, put aside the words that name our differences and think what we have in common.

Even behind these remarks, of course, were considerations of the geopolitical changes in international relations at that time. The U.S.-China relationship enjoyed a rare honeymoon period under both sides’ joint efforts in the 1980s, in the end stages of the Cold War. But there is wisdom behind the words.

In the widely referenced book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Reconstruction of World Order,” Samuel Huntington also put forward his suggestion: In a multi-civilizational world, the constructive course is to renounce universalism, accept diversity, and seek commonalities.

But in the United States today, under the agitation of the so-called “bipartisan consensus” on a hardline policy toward China, it remains a question whether there will be any truly forward-looking vision and inclusive and open mindset in Washington on the matter of China.

The United States seems to have split internally, and its much-vaunted seems to have fallen into a paradox. But President-elect Joe Biden has repeatedly claimed that “America is back.” What the new administration’s renewed or revived China policy will look like is one of the critical concerns for many. But as long as the “bipartisan consensus” on a hawkish approach toward China remains, it would be difficult to imagine how China and the United States could coexist in harmony, even under the new administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.