Chinese-US relations during the Donald Trump years went from bad to worse, but experts believe friction could climb even higher under new President Joe Biden.
Besides an ongoing trade war, conflict of interests continue over a range of issues including human rights abuses against China’s minority Uighurs, the status of Taiwan, national security legislation in Hong Kong, and military expansion in the South China Sea.
Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a Pakistani senator for the capital Islamabad, said there would be no drastic change in the US perception of China as a competitor, but that the new president would like to engage with Beijing, taking a more “civilized” approach.
Sayed, who also heads the Pakistan-China Institute, a think tank based in Lahore, argued that Afghanistan, Iran, and climate change are three areas where Sino-US interests converge.
Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, as well as from the Paris Agreement that aims to reduce global warming, but Biden has set to rejoin the Paris pact and has pledged to do the same with the Iran deal.
Sayed said that while China is already on board for the peace process in Afghanistan to end the two-decade civil war, it also wants the Iran deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to succeed.
But both sides first need to rebuild a relationship of trust and for that, a Taiwanese academic said, China has to respond to its alleged human rights abuses.
“The issue of the Uighurs tops Biden’s agenda,” Chien-Yu Shih told Anadolu Agency.
“The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act will soon be passed and will have far-reaching consequences in China-US trade relations,” he added, referring to a bill before the US Congress.
China has been accused of discrimination against Uighurs, a Muslim minority group in its northwestern Xinjiang autonomous region.
Rights groups say it has held up to a million Uighurs in detention centers, which the state calls "re-education camps."
-'Biden to protect democracy in Taiwan'
On Taiwan, Chien-Yu said that unlike Trump, Biden would be more practical, and stick to the so-called One-China policy, but "also safeguard Taiwan's democracy.”
"After securing virtually complete control over Hong Kong, the Chinese leadership deems Taiwan the next impediment to deal with, which will certainly become a pivotal issue in Chinese-US relations," Eyup Ersoy, a lecturer on international relations at Ahi Evran University in central Turkey, told Anadolu Agency in an email interview.
Biden, he said, cannot endorse an accommodating stance with China as doing so would invite "severe criticism from domestic political opponents."
He said that the US may boost its diplomatic coalition-building efforts in Asia as "Chinese influence in the region is seen as a direct threat to the US economy and security."
Towards this end, the new US administration has already made contacts with China's adversaries, including Japan, Australia, South Korea, and India.
Washington has also long sided with allies such as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia in rejecting Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.
-US' Indo-Pacific policy 'new Cold War era'
Sayed, who also chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee of Pakistan's Senate, warned that Trump’s “US Strategic Framework for Indo-Pacific” to counter China’s rising influence was a “recipe for a new Cold War."
He urged Washington against including India in its regional policy, saying it “plays the role of a spoiler, be it in Pakistan or Afghanistan.”
India's alleged "destabilizing role" in Pakistan is of particular concern for China, which has invested billions of dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a flagship project of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative trade network.
Similarly, a months-long military standoff on the disputed Sino-India border along the Himalayas is another bone of contention.
The US is also re-establishing the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, Japan, and India to checkmate China.
Salvatore Babones, who teaches at the University of Sydney in Australia, a nation seeing growing Chinese influence, says the US’ regional allies are still not ready to counter China.
“Biden wants to work with them, but they won’t go against China,” he argued, referring to their strong economic relations with the world’s second-largest economy.
But how will China react?
Ersoy said the Chinese leadership will intensify its assertive approach, given its drive to alter the regional balance of power in its favor.
"Xi Jinping's call for 'mutual respect and accommodation' is a diplomatic restatement of the Chinese ambition for more influence, and equal status with the US," he said.