Can the Eye of Washington focus?

As reported by the ABC:

All of Hong Kong’s remaining pro-democracy opposition politicians will resign in protest of the dismissal of four of their colleagues from the city’s Legislative Council.

They did so after China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a resolution this week saying any lawmaker who supports Hong Kong’s independence, refuses to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the city, threatens national security, or asks external forces to interfere in the city’s affairs should be disqualified.

The Hong Kong Government has disqualified four legislators — Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung.

Did China feel emboldened to act given the domestic turmoil in the United States?

It remains an open question how domestic turmoil in the US affects China’s calculus. On the one hand, while a hawkish position on China is now bi-partisan (perhaps Trump’s most significant legacy), political infighting absorbs the lion’s share of energy. According to this argument, China can pursue its agenda more forcefully, confident the focus of media/political attention is distracted.

On the other hand, Trump transformed US policy on China while presiding over the most polarized period of American politics in recent history. If most of Biden’s agenda is going to be hobbled, he might focus on those areas where consensus exists, and unlike some areas of foreign policy, confronting China is easily tied to domestic policy, e.g. industrial policy and jobs.

My view right now is that the promise of Sino-American relations is at risk, but not the peril. On issues like climate, there is room for constructive dialogue and cooperation. Those are also the areas most likely to be blocked domestically. This focuses attention on those issues driven by competition.

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