I don’t think it came as any surprise to Beijing that the Biden administration would prioritize efforts to repair alliance relationships, but the speed and the substance at which these efforts are moving forward, I think, has exceeded Beijing’s expectations.
With the downward trajectory in [U.S.-China] relations, the incoming ambassador ideally will need to have a visible connection to the president and his senior advisers, familiarity with the range of issues that comprise the relationship, and a future in American politics. The more the ambassador is seen as likely to wield influence in the future on issues affecting China, the higher the cost and risk for Beijing to mistreat him/her.
Watch for the gradual return of “strategic maturity.” [The U.S. under the Biden administration and China] will relearn how to walk and chew gum at the same time, e.g., by addressing sources of tension forthrightly and coordinating on issues where complementary efforts would be mutually beneficial, such as global COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Neither Washington nor Beijing will be guided in its approach to the relationship by amity or starry-eyed optimism about improving U.S.-China relations … but over time will become less confrontational and rhetorically venomous.
The most significant actions Biden could take on China in his first 100 days would not relate directly to China. Restoring American leadership in tackling global challenges, repairing relationships with allies and partners, countering the spread of Covid-19 at home and abroad, reviving an economy slammed by the pandemic — any of these steps would disprove Beijing’s belief that America has lost its capacity for self-correction.
Below the president, Secretary Pompeo and other members of the administration appear to have broader goals. They want to reorient the U.S.-China relationship toward an all-encompassing systemic rivalry that cannot be reversed by the outcome of the upcoming U.S. election. They believe this reorientation is needed to put the United States on a competitive footing against its 21st-century geostrategic rival.
A pattern seems to have taken hold, with the Chinese taking actions the US finds objectionable, America responding punitively, and then China retaliating in a reciprocal tit-for-tat fashion. I expect the same pattern to play itself out in the case of the closing of this consulate.
There’s a lot of parallels between what China has domestically and what they’re imposing on Hong Kong, they’re like clouds that hang over society. They can decide when the sun is allowed to come through, and they can decide when to block it.
If Hong Kong loses preferential trade treatment, U.S. tariffs and export controls on China would apply to Hong Kong. This action-reaction sequence of China tightening its hold on Hong Kong and America responding by withdrawing preferential treatment would weaken Hong Kong's status as a global financial hub.