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Editorial: Mechanism needed to manage US-China friction

When it comes to foreign policy, the most important issue for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will be the question of how to handle relations with China, which took a sharp turn for the worse during the four years of President Donald Trump's administration.

    Many countries across the world desire stable relations between the world's two largest economies. We hope that the new administration will cooperate with Japan, European countries and others to urge China to abide by international rules.

    The Trump administration launched a trade war with China, using tariffs as a weapon, and took a hard-line stance toward the country, imposing sanctions targeting Chinese firms involved in next-generation technology. Trump's criticism of China intensified particularly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, roping the issue into his reelection campaign, and creating a dialogue vacuum between the leaders of the two countries.

    Biden, on the other hand, has recognized the need to cooperate with China on issues such as the pandemic, global warming, nuclear arms control and North Korea. There are also expectations in China that when Biden becomes president, the provocative statements and unpredictable actions seen under the Trump administration will die down.

    However, opposition between the United States and China is not merely related to economic issues and advanced technology, but extends broadly, from the military sphere to space and political systems. Figures at every point along the U.S. political spectrum now share the view that rivalry with China will be a long-term issue.

    Biden has criticized China for its unfair trade practices and intellectual property theft. And when it comes to human rights issues, he has taken a tougher stance than Trump has. The way Biden's approach differs from that of the Trump administration, which went up against China alone, is that he plans to utilize the U.S.'s long-fostered web of alliances. For American allies like Japan, this is a desirable development.

    Beijing similarly takes the view that opposition between the U.S. and China will be prolonged. With that in mind, it has hammered out policies focusing on domestic-driven growth and the development of unique technology.

    China may have picked up on signs of decline in the United States, which has been unable to prevent the spread of the coronavirus or control the turmoil surrounding the presidential election.

    On the issue of Hong Kong, China has brushed aside criticism from the U.S. and European countries, and it has continued to hollow out the "one country, two systems" that it pledged internationally to abide by. In additional to implementing the Hong Kong national security law, it has moved to expel those in favor of democracy from the Hong Kong legislature.

    But deterioration of democracy in Hong Kong and Beijing's oppression of ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and other areas are not merely internal problems. Democratic countries need to unite and underscore the importance of universal values, indicating that they will not back down on these issues.

    China has contained the coronavirus and is advancing with economic recovery, but it must not be overconfident. It cannot return to closed-door policies in an age of globalization. For long-term growth, international collaboration is essential. Beijing also needs to show restraint in its activities in the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China seas. Co-existence will become difficult if China continues to ignore international rules.

    The administration of former President Barack Obama, in which Biden served as vice president, underscored a "pivot" to Asia, focusing on security strategies in the Asia-Pacific with an eye on the emergence of China. Criticism emerged that this did not stop China's military expansion or its maritime advancements. But still it is in line with the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy envisaged by Japan.

    There is significance in a four-country framework comprising Japan, the United States, Australia and India in calling for restraint from China. How about seeking to deepen the "pivot" to Asia policy while utilizing frameworks such as these?

    At the same time, many countries have wide-ranging relations with China centering on their economies. It is not desirable for them to get caught up in a U.S.-China confrontation.

    Former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, who is a likely contender to be Biden's defense secretary, has called for both reestablishing measures that deter China and restarting continuous high-level strategic dialogue with Beijing.

    Even during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, there was dialogue on arms control and detente -- the relaxing of strained relations. Wisdom is required to ensure that opposition does not lead to armed clashes.

    Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recently stated in the Diet, "Stable relations between China and the U.S. are not only in line with Japan's national interests, but are important for the peace and stability of international society."

    The future direction of U.S.-China rivalry has a direct bearing on Japan's own future. Tokyo needs to sufficiently communicate with Washington, while also continuing top-level talks with Beijing.

    The coronavirus crisis has had a major impact on international politics and economics. On the occasion of the U.S. election and Japan's recent ushering in of a new prime minister, we hope to see a revival of international cooperation and the rebuilding of multilateralism including both the U.S. and China as major powers.

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