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FOR FOUR years, Chinese officials have grumbled that President Donald Trump is an unpredictable bully, sometimes guided by his own selfish interests but at other moments by advisers who hate the Communist Party. A leaked diplomatic note quoted China’s Communist Party chief, Xi Jinping, complaining to European visitors that relations with America resemble a “no-rules boxing match”.
The team around President-elect Joe Biden wants the contest to become at once more orderly, less overtly ideological and more challenging for China. As if planning the comeback of a heavyweight champion, incoming Democrats want to see a fitter, smarter America pick fights with China more carefully, then train hard to win each one.
A wary China will try to ease tensions but has no illusions about a full reset of relations. There will be no return to the days before 2016, when American presidents of both parties argued that engagement might lead China to open its economy—and perhaps its society—to the world. Instead, Mr Biden will level a different criticism at Mr Trump: that in swinging too wildly at the assertive China of the Xi era, he failed to land decisive blows.