While China’s top officials remained conspicuously silent on Joe Biden’s presidential victory over Donald Trump, Chinese residents celebrated and held out cautious optimism for improved US-China ties.
On Monday, Biden’s speech after being declared the projected winner was among the most viewed topics on social media, with the hashtag “Biden national address” viewed more than one billion times on Weibo.
“This is how a president should behave,” one user said. “I watched his speech all the way through and it was perfect,” another said. “It was very wise of him to emphasise cooperation to avoid possible riots by [Trump’s] refusal to concede the election,” another said. Others agreed with Biden’s pledge to make defeating the Covid-19 virus his top priority, with a transitional task force to be announced on Monday. In Beijing, patrons waited in line to eat at a noodle shop that Biden visited in 2011.
Chinese media carried reports on Biden’s personal story, including the deaths of his first wife, daughter and son. Several noted his path from being the youngest US senator to the oldest president. “Very persistent,” one commentator said underneath a video of his long career in public office and multiple attempts to run for president.
In response to reports that Biden visited the grave of his son after being named the the winner, internet users were sympathetic. Some quoted a line from a Song dynasty poem, from the perspective of a father lamenting the loss of his motherland to invaders, writing: “The day the troops retake and set the north lands free. Do not forget to tell me at my grave the good news.”
Few presidents have elicited as strong of a reaction in China as Trump, whose victory in 2016 was met with a brief honeymoon phase as people saw him as a pragmatic businessman who would put ideology aside. Under the Trump administration, ties between Washington and Beijing have reached their lowest point in decades, marked by criticism and competition across several issues from human rights to technology and trade.
Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing, said he believed Biden would adopt a multilateral approach in engaging with China. “Under Biden’s administration China and the US will engage in many forms of dialogue and discussion that will stabilise the situation,” he said.
During the campaign Trump claimed that a Biden presidency would amount to a win for China, adding that Americans would soon have to learn Chinese. Yet Biden has said that the US “does need to get tough with China”. In the last presidential debate Biden described Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “thug” and his campaign has described the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang as genocide.
Analysts say that while Biden is more likely to a more measured approach, the relationship between China and the US has fundamentally changed since the Obama administration in which Biden served.
Chinese state media, which described the US election system as “disastrous”, has also reported on the deep division in US society, characterised by competing groups celebrating and protesting in the streets and the need for police to be dispatched.
The editor of the Global Times, Hu Xijin said in a video that China had not congratulated Biden on the election in order to maintain distance from the race and US politics. He wrote on Weibo: “This will be the most turbulent and uncertain transition period in the United States … China must be prepared.”
Additional reporting by Lillian Yang