China Celebrates Return of ‘Old Friend’ Joe Biden and His ‘Noodle Diplomacy’

A man looks at Joe Biden's photos on display at a restaurant where he visited in 2011 as U.S. vice president, in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020. World leaders congratulated U.S. President-elect Biden on his victory, cheering it as an opportunity to fortify global democracy and celebrating the significance of …
AP Photo/Andy Wong

China’s state-run Global Times on Sunday celebrated the return of “old friend” Joe Biden to power, reminiscing fondly about Biden’s “noodle diplomacy,” named after his visit to a modest Beijing eatery when he was vice president in 2011.

According to the Global Times, China’s heavily censored internet is swimming with flashbacks to Biden’s visit to Yao’s Chao Gan restaurant:

Many netizens posted old pictures of Biden dining in the restaurant on Sina Weibo, urging the shop to roll out the order as the “President Package,” which was previously known as the “Biden Set.” This included five bowls of black bean sauce noodles, 10 steamed buns, smashed cucumber salad, mountain yam salad, shredded potatoes and Coca-Cola, media reported. Others urged people to order something from the special restaurant on this special occasion. 

Yao Long, owner of the restaurant located in the historical center of Beijing, referred to Biden as “an old friend,” although he can only vaguely recall the day Biden made a sudden visit to his restaurant, as it was too long ago. “I sincerely congratulate him on being elected US president, as he once was a guest in our restaurant,” Yao said.

But not every Chinese liked Biden’s down-to-earth move at the time, which some observers thought was cheap as it had clear purpose to touch Chinese people, who were not familiar with American-style democracy. Observers noted that such a trick will not wash with Chinese people any longer.

Other “enthusiastic Chinese netizens” quoted by the Global Times recalled Biden “watching a basketball match, bringing his Chinese-learning granddaughter to China and visiting suffering people from then earthquake-stricken Sichuan Province.” They said they admired his “history of battling adversity,” including overcoming family tragedies and failing at two previous presidential runs before he “finally claimed the crown at the senior age of 78.”

The Global Times followed this up with the usual officially-endorsed dour predictions that Biden’s election would not significantly improve U.S.-China relations. As one Chinese academic put it, “we should not put too much expectation on Biden, because to contain and confront China is a strategic consensus between the two parties of the U.S.” 

The most downbeat analysts quoted by the Chinese Communist paper grumbled that Biden’s “noodle diplomacy” was just a “cheap trick” to fool the Chinese people, asserting that “such a trick will not wash with Chinese people any longer.”

The Global Times made room for a bit more optimism on Sunday, predicting Biden’s return to conventional international politics could repair some of the “destruction” caused by the maverick Trump.

“China can expect more negotiation room with the U.S. and Europe after Biden takes office, but competition and toughness may come to China under close transatlantic relations,” analyst Zhou Hong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences predicted. 

Zhou expected the Western world to give China fewer problems once Donald Trump’s stubborn criticism is replaced with noodle diplomacy:

China should prepare for a tough Europe and a tough US, but there is no need to be afraid. Germany once hoped to gain more influence over the South China Sea. Perhaps the US and Europe will talk tough on the South China Sea issue in the future, but it will go no further than that, and Europe will not participate in actual military exercises, Zhou noted.

Other observers also doubted how much Europe would cooperate with the US to play the geopolitics card to contain China, as the major mission for Europeans, facing the COVID-19 pandemic,  is to curb the virus and resume economy, for which they would need badly to cooperate with China.

Other issues such as the values and human rights are less likely to be used by the West to attack China following the pandemic and the terrorist attacks in some European countries including France. Chinese people have built strong confidence in the country’s system given the Chinese government’s performance in the epidemic and China’s development in the past years, observers noted.

On Monday, the Global Times predicted a Biden walkback from Trump’s insistence on a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” noting that the region was not even mentioned in the 2020 Democratic Party platform.

The Global Times expected Biden to return to a more China-friendly Asia-Pacific strategy, possibly even reviving the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or “some other forms of regional economic and trade mechanisms which exclude China.”

“In face of U.S. economic encirclement, China can show the region its stance and policy ideas on globalization and free trade, and enhance efforts to promote integration with regional countries including US allies and partners. It can also accelerate promoting regional mechanisms such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership with ASEAN,” the article suggested, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations

“This may lead to several closed multilateral mechanisms comprised of different groupings of countries, but China and the U.S. will play key roles in these mechanisms,” the Global Times wrote, essentially proposing that a Biden return to internationalism would make it impossible for the U.S. to contain China in any meaningful sense.

The article concluded by predicting that America might continue its “muscle-flexing in the Asia-Pacific region” – an allusion to the U.S. Navy’s Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOP) in waters claimed illegally by Beijing – but they would no longer pose a serious strategic impediment to Chinese ambitions because, without Trump, smaller Asian nations would no longer see the United States as a reliable backer in economic or military confrontations with the Chinese superpower.

“China, based on its diplomatic principles, can work on boosting ties with Belt and Road countries to expand its circle of friends to offset the US strategic pressure,” the Global Times advised. 

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s international infrastructure project, denounced by the Trump administration as a malign project to spread Chinese influence through the Third World and dominate smaller nations by trapping them with huge loans from Chinese banks.

Some of Trump’s critics insist he never made much progress in bringing ASEAN together against the rising Chinese hegemon, accusing him of investing little more than rhetoric in the effort, while others thought ASEAN might be even more eager to confront and contain China than Trump, as evidenced by their support for U.S. engagement in the region even when the U.S.-China trade war was costing them money.

The Chinese analysts cited by the Global Times appear convinced that a return to the Obama administration’s approach will leave everyone with little choice but doing business with China – which, for all of its lip service about globalism and “win-win cooperation,” was practicing China First foreign policy long before Donald Trump advocated America First, and will continue practicing China First long after Joe Biden has an opportunity to put America First to bed.

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