As a tit-for-tat consulate closure has sparked concern that Sino-U.S. tensions would escalate further, China hopes for the reelection of Donald Trump in November's U.S. presidential election, diplomatic sources said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's leadership, which has been keen to expand its global influence, believes the Republican president is "easier to deal with" than the Democrats as he has sought protectionism and undermined relations with other nations, they said.
"China thinks the reelection of Trump would divide the world and erode the international credibility of the United States," one of the sources said. "The situation would give China a window of opportunity to consolidate its hegemony in the global arena."
"Trump, a businessman, may make some concessions if Xi brings up the talk about money, but the Democrats favoring liberalism would cast sterner eyes for human rights and democracy issues in China. Beijing wants Trump to be reelected," he added.
Late last week, China closed its consulate general in Houston in the southern state of Texas as ordered by the United States, with Washington labeling the mission "a hub of spying and intellectual property theft."
In retaliation, the Communist-led Chinese government compelled the United States to shut its equivalent liaison office in the southwestern city of Chengdu and Washington earlier this week complied with the request.
Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged countries around the world and the Chinese people to join U.S. efforts to end what he lambasted as Beijing's "tyranny," underscoring Washington's growing antagonistic stance toward its rival.
The freedom-loving nations "must induce China to change in more creative and assertive ways, because Beijing's actions threaten our people and our prosperity," Pompeo said in a speech, adding Xi is a "true believer in a bankrupt totalitarian ideology."
Jia Qingguo, a professor at Peking University in Beijing said, "The Trump administration has identified China as an ideological enemy, has adopted extremely hostile policies toward it, and has been trying to put U.S.-China ties in an irrecoverable state."
"Although China does not want to intensify the conflict, it has no choice but to respond" to U.S. measures, he said. "Bilateral relations have been moving toward another Cold War."
Recently, China and the United States have been clashing over many economic and security issues, including business practices, trade, state-of-the-art technology, Hong Kong and the South China Sea, as well as the origins of the novel coronavirus.
In the run-up to the presidential election in November, Trump has been getting tough on China in an apparent bid to gain public support, as political unrest has been mounting at home against a backdrop of the virus outbreak and the "Black Lives Matter" protests.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Monday, "The current situation between China and the United States is something we do not want to see. The responsibility rests entirely with the United States."
A diplomat said Washington could soon coerce Beijing into closing its consulate general in San Francisco, where a Chinese researcher, who the United States has said was taken into custody, had sought refuge at the office amid an allegation of visa fraud.
In that case, China might order the United States to shut its consulate general in Shanghai, the country's largest commercial hub, he said, adding such reciprocal actions would raise fears that the world's two major powers would come "one step short of war."
Hu Xijin of the Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the Communist Party, said in a Twitter post in English, "Many people are asking whether there will be a war between China and the U.S."
"None of them believe that China would proactively provoke a war and they know China is on the defensive. But people don't know how crazy (the) Trump team can be and whether the U.S. can control them," Hu said.
China, however, "would be happy if Trump is reelected," another diplomatic source in Beijing said.
Since taking office in 2017, Trump, who has pursued protectionist policies as part of his "America First" agenda, has pulled Washington out of international treaties and organizations in succession, triggering a weakening of global cooperation.
"The trend would help China boost its hegemony in the world," the source said, as Xi has promoted the "Belt and Road" initiative for the development of infrastructure and trade across Asia, Europe and Africa -- which it touts as a modern Silk Road economic zone.
Trump, meanwhile, has remained eager to continue trade negotiations with Beijing to force it to rectify what he calls its unfair business practices that have prevented U.S. companies from entering China's enormous market with a population of 1.4 billion.
The South China Morning Post has reported that Beijing and Washington will carry out trade talks in August to investigate the progress of their "phase one" deal that took effect in February.
"Regarding Trump as transactional, China thinks it can eventually strike deals with the United States in various fields. But it also knows that the Democrats would become an annoying negotiator for China," the source said.
"China will watch the presidential election with breathless interest," he added.
The latest opinion polls have shown that Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with little more than three months to go to the election.