China holds off on sending congratulations to Biden on US election victory

A screen shows a news report of US President-elect Joe Biden delivering a speech, in a restaurant in Beijing on Nov 8, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China, which has held off on congratulating US presidential election winner Joe Biden even as leaders of other countries have done so, said on Monday (Nov 9) it would follow custom in responding to the result.

Democrat Biden clinched enough states to win the presidency but incumbent President Donald Trump has not conceded and is making legal challenges to the outcome of the Nov 3 election.

"We noticed that Mr Biden has declared election victory," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily media briefing. "We understand that the US presidential election result will be determined following US law and procedures."

In 2016, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent congratulations to Mr Trump on Nov 9, a day after the election.

Relations between China and the United States are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong and the coronavirus, and the Trump administration has unleashed a barrage of sanctions against Beijing.

While Mr Biden is expected to maintain a tough stance on China - he has called Mr Xi a "thug" and vowed to lead a campaign to "pressure, isolate and punish China" - he is likely to take a more measured and multilateral approach.

"We always believe that China and the United States should enhance communication and dialogue, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, expand cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit and promote sound and stable development of bilateral relations," Mr Wang told the briefing.

Mr Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said in a tweet: "China hasn't congratulated Biden on his victory as quickly as Western countries did."

"I think it's because China needs to keep larger distance from the US presidential election to avoid getting entangled in its controversy. This actually shows that China respects the US as a whole," he added.

Earlier on Monday, Chinese state media struck an optimistic tone in editorials, saying relations could be restored to a state of greater predictability, starting with trade.

While acknowledging that Washington was unlikely to ease pressure on China over issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Global Times said Beijing should work to communicate with Mr Biden's team.

"It's in the common interests of people from both countries and of the international community that China-U.S. relations become eased and controllable," it said.

The China Daily said it was "obvious" improving ties with China could start from trade, and reviving trade talks was critical to restoring some understanding and trust.

Mr Wang Huiyao, head of the Centre for China and Globalisation and an adviser to the government in Beijing, said he expects more dialogue under a Biden administration.

"Biden's election means an opportunity to re-establish relations with the US as he is more likely to uphold multilateralism. That means China and the US can start discussing issues including climate change, pandemic control and trade," Mr Wang said.

On China's Twitter-like Weibo, top trending items included the hashtags "#BidenSpeaksToTheWholeCountry#", viewed 1.21 billion times, and "#Trump will lose special Twitter protections in January#".

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