Presidents Trump and Xi will meet on the sidelines of the G20 later this week following a breakdown in bilateral trade negotiations and amid growing technological competition. In this episode, Paul Haenle spoke with Jake Sullivan, former national security advisor to vice president Joe Biden and senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on how U.S. policy toward China might differ under a Democratic president and China’s role in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Sullivan said the upcoming presidential campaign will deepen the debate in the United States over competition with China. The idea that Beijing has become a strategic rival does not ring true for many across the country. However, policymakers in Washington are pushing a more confrontational approach to the bilateral relationship. Sullivan argued that both Democrats and Republicans can use growing tensions in the relationship to further their own political agendas, driving a bipartisan China consensus in Washington. While the United States and China are often described as being in a new Cold War, this is not an apt label and risks mischaracterizing the relationship, Sullivan said. A Democratic president’s policies toward China are likely to diverge from Trump’s by focusing on engaging Beijing in multilateral formats, deemphasizing the bilateral trade deficit, and pressing harder on issues related to U.S. values such as human rights. No matter who wins the next election, Sullivan said, one area of continuity will be the focus on technology competition.

Paul Haenle

Paul Haenle holds the Maurice R. Greenberg Director’s Chair at the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy based at Tsinghua University in Beijing. His research focuses on Chinese foreign policy and U.S.-China relations.

Jake Sullivan

Jake Sullivan is a senior fellow in Carnegie’s Geoeconomics and Strategy Program. He served in the Obama administration as national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and director of policy planning at the U.S. Department of State, as well as deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.