An election like no other: a sharply divided US votes for president, with US-China relations at a tipping point

Robert Delaney
·4-min read

Some 97 million Americans have cast their votes early in a US presidential election, the outcome of which will determine how Washington engages with its allies in Asia as well as Beijing.

Under President Donald Trump, US-China relations have descended to their most fractious point since high-level, bilateral talks in the early 1970s, when the two sides agreed to work towards re-establishment of official diplomatic relations.

Those frictions include disputes over trade, intellectual property violations, militarisation of the South China Sea – all overshadowed earlier this year by an out-of-control pandemic that Trump has repeatedly blamed China for.

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With the foreign policy stakes so high, the South China Morning Post will provide continuous coverage of the 2020 elections – even before results start coming in on Tuesday, Election Day, through the night and the day after.

At the SCMP we are committed to providing our readers with expert coverage of the US election. Part of this coverage will include a live blog, to launch at 2pm US Eastern Time (3am Hong Kong time) on Tuesday, which will be free to all our readers. Please support us on our mission to provide quality journalism.

Post reporters will update readers with key developments in the presidential race and crucial senatorial contests – as well as any challenges or conflicts that may emerge concerning the integrity of the vote, a suspicion fanned often by Trump .

Our US team will have reporters in Washington, New York and San Francisco, as well as Iowa, a farm state affected more than most by the trade war that Trump started in 2018. China is expected to boost its imports of corn, soybeans and other agricultural products produced in the Midwestern state as part of a phase one trade deal struck with Beijing in January.

To leverage our strength in providing perspectives from Greater China and Asia, coverage will also include insights and reactions gathered by reporters in Southeast Asia, Beijing and the Post’s home base of Hong Kong.

Trump’s use of China as a campaign issue never got traction, analysts say

The US elections are taking place amid a spike in coronavirus infections, a public health crisis that helped drag US-China relations to new lows this year. The illness, which first emerged in China late last year, has taken more than 230,000 American lives, undercutting Trump’s early claims that the pandemic was under control.

All along, Trump has squabbled with his top health officials over measures needed to bring the pandemic under control, helping to keep his Democratic challenger, Joe Biden, well ahead in the polls.

Biden is 8.5 percentage points ahead of Trump in an average of polls published by The New York Times on Monday.

Cars line the street outside the election board in Oklahoma City on Thursday. The US elections have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has helped spur the use of early voting. Photo: AP
Cars line the street outside the election board in Oklahoma City on Thursday. The US elections have been complicated by the coronavirus pandemic, which has helped spur the use of early voting. Photo: AP

However, because of the unique US electoral college system, whichever candidate gets the most votes in a few key swing states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, will end up winning the White House. Trump himself lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots to the Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

No one is expecting a potential win by Biden to restore US-China relations to their pre-2017 status quo – but analysts anticipate a more consistent approach.

US elections: from Montana to Florida, everyone’s talking about China

“On the Trump side, really the only place that you have significant regular high-level conversations is around the trade deal,” said Ian Bremmer, founder of the risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

“On the national security side, on the tech side, on the climate side, on regular diplomatic relations, it’s pretty broken,” he said.

“The first three months of a Biden administration will not be about creating a lot of policy on China. It’ll be simply seeing how much damage has been done, and where there are people that aren’t in the right institutional spots, getting them there and rebuilding the dialogue.”

With a dozen or so very competitive races in the US Senate, Biden’s party also has a chance of gaining control of the chamber, which would put the Democrats in charge of the US government’s foreign policy agenda.

While the Democrats have co-written or supported legislation that has angered China, such as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, Republican senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri have tended to be more vocal in condemning China and pushing the Trump administration to take action against Beijing.

For a full picture of Election Day in the US, bookmark this article.

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