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Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Joe Biden is planning to confront China across the globe, embracing some of President Trump's goals but rejecting his means.

The big picture: By starting a trade war with China, Trump has fundamentally altered the U.S.- China relationship — and forced both Republicans and Democrats to accept a more confrontational approach towards Beijing.

  • Biden has mostly accepted the new consensus, but insists that he’ll be more effective in challenging China by coordinating with allies, instead of going it alone.
  • “People in Beijing may be nervous about Joe Biden because they recognize that he is going to work with allies,” said Jeffrey Prescott, a Biden adviser.

What we are watching: Biden has called President Xi Jinping a “thug” and his campaign has accused China of “genocide” of Uighurs in Xinjiang, a term that the Trump administration has not deployed.

  • Michèle Flournoy, a good bet to head Biden's Pentagon, suggested in June that the U.S. should have the capability to “to sink all of China’s military vessels, submarines, and merchant ships in the South China Sea within 72 hours.”
  • Biden has also hit Trump for being “the first American president in three decades who has not met or spoken with His Holiness the Dalai Lama,” and has pledged to meet with Tibet’s spiritual leader as president.

Go deeper: If Trump sees China mainly through a trade and coronavirus lens, Biden views the relationship as multifaceted contest that will determine the international order for several generations.

  • “There’s a technology competition, a military competition, an economic competition, an ideological competition and a diplomatic competition,” said Ely Rattner, a Biden China adviser. “It’s a big task.”

The backstory: For the first three years of his presidency, Trump blamed China for many of America's woes, from hollowed-out industrial cities to strung-out rural towns. He unilaterally imposed a series of tariffs, which at one point included levies on more than $500 billion in Chinese goods.

  • This January, he signed a "phase one" trade deal, declared victory and prepared to campaign on a roaring economy.
  • Then the coronavirus hit, and after initially praising Xi's response, Trump began to blame China for sending the world "the plague."
  • This summer, Trump shuttered China’s consulate in Houston, threatened to ban TikTok, worked to delist Chinese companies from U.S. exchanges and sanctioned Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam.

The intrigue: Biden called Trump's trade pact “hollow,” but he hasn’t said whether he’ll cancel the tariffs that are currently in place on some $360 billion of Chinese goods.

The bottom line: If elected, Biden's immediate decisions on tariffs — and potentially Taiwan — will set the tone for his relationship with China.

  • But he'll make sure to always consult allies and avoid the kind of one-on-one showdowns that Trump relished.
  • And he won't score the relationship just by looking at trade deficits.

Go deeper

China sanctions top Trump alumni one day after Uyghur genocide determination

Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

China's Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday it would sanction 28 "anti-China" U.S. politicians, including a slew of top officials from the outgoing Trump administration such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser John Bolton and former chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Between the lines, via Axios China expert Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: Chinese government officials have traditionally decried the use of unilateral sanctions by Western countries, even though China regularly blocks foreign companies and individuals from its markets for perceived political slights.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

What Biden's top administration picks signal about his China strategy

Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Early indicators suggest the Biden administration may continue to pursue a robust China strategy that reaches across multiple government departments and agencies.

Why it matters: Though the Trump administration's approach to China was often controversial, there is broad bipartisan agreement that China poses a major challenge to U.S. interests and values.

Jan 19, 2021 - World

U.S. declares China's actions against Uighurs "genocide"

A protester in London. Photo Hasan Esen/Anadolu Agency via Getty

With just one day left in President Trump's term, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has officially determined that China's campaign of mass internment, forced labor and forced sterilization of over 1 million Muslim minorities in Xinjiang constitutes "genocide" and "crimes against humanity."

Why it matters: The U.S. has become the first country to adopt these terms to describe the Chinese Communist Party's gross human rights abuses in its far northwest.