Event Recap: Voting Your Pocketbook – Economics, Trade, and Business Implications for US Presidential Elections

On Thursday, July 16th, 2020 USCET held its second Live From Washington online webinar in partnership with AmCham China in Beijing.

“Voting Your Pocketbook: Economics, Trade, and Business Implications for US Presidential Elections” featured Amy Celico, Principal at Albright Stonebridge Group, Bob Davis, Senior Editor at the Wall Street Journal, William Reinsch, Scholl Chair in International Business at CSIS, and was moderated by Alan Beebe, President of AmCham China. These seasoned experts explored the impacts of pocketbook voting on American elections and focused on the current and future state of the Sino-US relationship.

William Reinsch began the webinar by emphasizing that the economy has always played a large role in American elections, with 2020 not being an exception. Following the COVID-19 pandemic, the US economy will not make a ‘V-shaped’ recovery and few are optimistic that the economy will be able to return to pre-pandemic levels. Mr. Reinsch also detailed the American public’s changing views on trade, especially amongst Republicans who have taken an increasingly negative view towards international trade. Regarding the US-China relationship, Mr. Reinsch presented polling data from Pew Research which highlights the worsening public opinion of China in recent years, anticipating that both parties will take a tough stance towards China.

Amy Celico focused specifically on US-China bilateral trade, which she views as being a stabilizer in US-China relations for over thirty years to quickly becoming a destabilizing factor in the bilateral relationship. President Trump has emphasized the need for trade balance and forced China to come to the negotiating table through the imposition of tariffs and renewed focus on intellectual property rights. Although the Phase One Trade Deal is limited in scope, it contains real commitments, but will not be highlighted during the President’s re-election campaign as its benefits do not fit his overall narrative. Overall, Ms. Celico is pessimistic about the next five months but holds optimism that the bilateral US-China relationship will improve in 2021.

Bob Davis analyzed the causes for the worsening of US-China relations, beginning at the peak of bilateral relations in 2008 with the US and China leading global economic recovery following the recession. In recent years, China has transformed into the most competitive predator of the United States and is set to surpass it economically. Following the election of President Trump, the US-China bilateral relationship has deteriorated further, but President Trump has focused much of his criticisms of China on economic rather than national security or human rights issues. Mr. Davis then delineated President Trump’s and Joe Biden’s public policies towards China and explored the implications of each. President Trump is focused purely on economic issues, although members of his administration are divided over the ‘China threat’ posed to national security. Joe Biden may take a more moderate tone on China but is not expected to remove tariffs against China. A Biden Administration may actually take up multilateralism to counter China with other Western countries, but also cooperate with Beijing on issues such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and global climate change.

Overall, the 2020 election is poised to be pivotal for the United States in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic and will have significant implications for US-China relations. Business leaders need to be prepared for either a Trump or Biden administration, which could mean continued volatility and uncertainty or greater predictability and stability in terms of US foreign and trade policy towards China. Regardless of who wins the election, China will continue to remain an important foreign policy and economic issue in the United States.

Read full speaker biographies here