After days of silence, China on Friday congratulated Joseph R. Biden Jr. on his election as president of the United States, signaling a start to its relations with the incoming administration after years of hostility and distrust under President Trump.
“We express our congratulations to Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a daily news conference, referring to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. “We respect the choice of the American people.”
The Foreign Ministry had previously sidestepped the question of when it might comment publicly on Mr. Biden’s victory, saying it would respect American laws and procedures for determining the winner of the election — a line that Mr. Wang repeated on Friday after conveying China’s congratulations.
Mr. Trump has not publicly conceded the election, and his campaign has filed lawsuits challenging the result. But that has not stopped leaders around the world from acknowledging Mr. Biden’s victory in the past week.
Many of America’s democratic allies have already spoken with Mr. Biden, but several authoritarians who enjoyed mostly amicable relations under Mr. Trump have remained quiet. Among those who have yet to acknowledge a victor are President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.
For China, relations with the United States have deteriorated to their lowest point in decades during the Trump administration, which has taken confrontational stances on trade, technology, human rights and a host of other issues.
While the tone from American officials may become less strident under Mr. Biden, few expect him to reverse Mr. Trump’s policies on China right away. Mr. Biden’s views on China have hardened since he was vice president under President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail, Mr. Biden called the country’s top leader, Xi Jinping, “a thug.” He has said that China’s rise represents the “greatest strategic challenge” to the United States and its allies.
“The United States does need to get tough with China,” Mr. Biden wrote in an essay this year in Foreign Affairs. In describing China’s theft of intellectual property from American companies, the country’s use of surveillance technology to facilitate repression and its efforts to extend its global reach, Mr. Biden sounded more alike Mr. Trump than apart.
Still, Mr. Biden has so far offered few concrete policy proposals on China, and in his victory speech he made clear that his first priority would be taming the coronavirus outbreak at home.
It also remains unclear what actions Mr. Trump might take toward China in the final weeks of his presidency. On Thursday, he issued an executive order barring Americans from investing in several companies with ties to the Chinese military, a step closer to decoupling American capital markets from China.
Even though Mr. Xi and other officials had been silent on the election outcome, the state-controlled news media in China has not.
Global Times, the voice of the Communist Party’s hawks, said, “The Chinese people don’t want to be involved in trouble after the U.S. election,” adding, “Now may be their craziest time, but we know it’s also their most vulnerable time.”
Some commentaries have expressed hope that Mr. Biden would help cool tensions despite unresolved differences on several political issues including the status of Taiwan and the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Those differences were on full display during the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s news conference on Friday, when the ministry’s spokesman, Mr. Wang, responded to remarks that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had made about Taiwan the day before.
In a radio interview on Thursday, Mr. Pompeo said that Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy, was not a part of China. The Chinese government has long claimed Taiwan as its territory, and the Trump administration’s growing engagement with the island’s leadership has contributed greatly to recent friction with Beijing.
“We sternly warn Pompeo and his ilk: Any acts that harm China’s core interests and interfere in China’s domestic affairs will be met with resolute counterattack from China,” Mr. Wang said on Friday.