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China holds off on sending congratulations to Biden

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, which has held off on congratulating U.S. presidential election winner Joe Biden even as leaders of other countries have done so, said on Monday it would follow custom in responding to the result.

Democrat Biden clinched enough states to win the presidency but incumbent President Donald Trump has not conceded and is making legal challenges to the outcome of the Nov. 3 election.

“We noticed that Mr. Biden has declared election victory,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily media briefing. “We understand that the U.S. presidential election result will be determined following U.S. law and procedures.”

In 2016, Xi sent congratulations to Trump on Nov. 9, a day after the election.

Relations between China and the United States are at their worst in decades over disputes ranging from technology and trade to Hong Kong and the coronavirus, and the Trump administration has unleashed a barrage of sanctions against Beijing.

While Biden is expected to maintain a tough stance on China -- he has called President Xi Jinping a “thug” and vowed to lead a campaign to “pressure, isolate and punish China” -- he is likely to take a more measured and multilateral approach.

“We always believe that China and the United States should enhance communication and dialogue, manage differences on the basis of mutual respect, expand cooperation on the basis of mutual benefit and promote sound and stable development of bilateral relations,” Wang told the briefing.

Hu Xijin, editor of the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, said in a tweet: “China hasn’t congratulated Biden on his victory as quickly as Western countries did.”

“I think it’s because China needs to keep larger distance from the US presidential election to avoid getting entangled in its controversy. This actually shows that China respects the US as a whole,” he added.

Earlier on Monday, Chinese state media struck an optimistic tone in editorials, saying relations could be restored to a state of greater predictability, starting with trade.

While acknowledging that Washington was unlikely to ease pressure on China over issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Global Times said Beijing should work to communicate with Biden’s team.

“It’s in the common interests of people from both countries and of the international community that China-U.S. relations become eased and controllable,” it said.

The China Daily said it was “obvious” improving ties with China could start from trade, and reviving trade talks was critical to restoring some understanding and trust.

Wang Huiyao, head of the Center for China and Globalization and an advisor to the government in Beijing, said he expects more dialogue under a Biden administration.

“Biden’s election means an opportunity to re-establish relations with the U.S. as he is more likely to uphold multilateralism. That means China and the U.S. can start discussing issues including climate change, pandemic control and trade,” Wang told Reuters.

On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, top trending items included the hashtags “#BidenSpeaksToTheWholeCountry#”, viewed 1.21 billion times, and “#Trump will lose special Twitter protections in January#”.

Reporting by Cate Cadell, Brenda Goh, Tony Munroe and Lusha Zhang; Editing by Richard Pullin and Catherine Evans

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