The 2020 presidential debates have undoubtedly departed from presidential norms. Through an emphatic display of mutual disrespect, the most recent debates involving President Trump and former Vice President Biden have gained traction both nationally and globally. While the American public tunes in to the United States’ presidential debates to evaluate the current and future health of Washington, the United States’ allies and rivals alike, including China, have used the recent debates to develop diplomatic strategies for a post-election America.
In nearly every debate, there have been brief moments of snidery, interruptions, and witty remarks made by each candidate. However, the most recent presidential debate that took place on September 29, in Cleveland, Ohio, is one for the history books. This debate can most aptly be characterized by incessant interruptions, personal attacks, profanity, and a lack of respect for pre-established rules of engagement, with both candidates demonstrating a total disregard for the moderator. It not only shocked the American public but the international community at large.
An unimpressed global viewership
News outlets around the world quickly published statements from global citizens and politicians who labeled the debate as a “national humiliation” (UK), “cacophonique” (France), “unwatchable” (Italy), and a “live quarrel” (China). Most notably, outlets in both the United States and abroad agreed the debate demonstrated an overwhelming loss for the American public and its voters. Not only was the debate embarrassing on an international level, but more poignantly, it left both the United States’ allies and foes both questioning the stability and strength of the United States’ democratic system. As issues surrounding a peaceful transition of power, voter intimidation, and ballot security continue to surface, US voters and the international community are left waiting to see how the election will unfold.
Beijing considers a Trump vs. Biden administration
Beijing specifically dove further into its critique of the presidential debate and candidates. President Trump is notorious for his hardline stance against China and using issues like trade and COVID-19 to underscore tensions between the two countries. Meanwhile, Biden has vowed to approach China in a much more traditional manner, namely re-establishing relations with US allies and engaging in “quiet diplomacy.” However, though he assumes a more institutional approach to international relations, Biden has also sworn to take a stricter stance against China with issues like human rights and climate change. As the primary rival in both candidates’ eyes, Beijing has strongly condemned the use of China as a “political football” by either candidate to rally their supporters, stating that the debate lacked “substantial and factual arguments” and that the candidates were too focused on using China as an offensive tactic rather than focusing on specific Chinese-related issues.
However, the rivalry goes deeper than President Trump and former VP Biden. In the most recent debate with Vice President Pence and Senator Harris, both candidates were asked the question, “How would you describe our relationship with China?” Following the rhetoric of his running mate, Pence took a strict position against China and blamed the country for the effects felt by COVID-19.
In response, Chinese media censored Pence’s response, and the livestream returned precisely at the beginning of Kamala Harris’ reference to a Pew Research report indicating that world leaders have more respect for Chinese President Xi Jinping than President Trump. Beijing’s denouncement of comments made at the debates and censorship in real-time reflects the strained relationship between the US and China while providing a glimpse into China’s preferred administration.
Too soon to tell
As the election approaches, both the American public and international community will be watching if Biden’s more conventional nature will bring the opportunity to resolve tensions with China, or if they will remain heightened with another term of the Trump Administration.