No foreign policy issue will plague the winner of the White House more than China. There’s already a debate raging among China watchers over what Washington’s next steps should be. Some favor a “reset” to tamp down tensions and return to more constructive diplomacy. Others are fearful of that very reset and argue the U.S. mustn’t stray from the hard line.
The choices made by the next administration will be critical. As the U.S. struggles to contain the coronavirus outbreak and restart its economy, China appears to be gaining strength. Its gross domestic product expanded 4.9% in the third quarter, an astounding rebound in a world still mostly mired in a pandemic-induced paralysis. (Official Chinese data have to be taken with several grains of salt, but economists generally agree the economy is rapidly on the mend.) In its own foreign policy, Beijing has barely flinched under U.S. pressure and instead has become more assertive—enhancing its influence in global institutions such as the World Health Organization, crushing the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, turning up the heat on Taiwan, and brawling (literally) with India along their disputed border.