Joe Biden Says U.S. Lacks Leverage Over China, Will Keep Donald Trump's Tariffs for Now

President-elect Joe Biden will not immediately axe the tariffs imposed on China during President Donald Trump's trade war and has said that the U.S. needs to work towards increasing its "leverage" over Beijing.

Biden told The New York Times that when he takes office, the 25 percent tariffs that the Trump administration had slapped on around half of China's exports would stay in place for the time being.

Ties between Beijing and Washington deteriorated under Trump who picked fights with China over trade and technology. There was a respite when both sides signed a "phase one" trade deal in January, committing China to purchasing $200 billion in extra American goods and services in 2020 and 2021. It temporarily put a halt to further tariff increases, but did leave earlier hikes in place.

Beijing is falling behind on the phase one deal but Biden said he would review the existing U.S.-China agreement, and try to work with allies in Asia and Europe to develop a "coherent strategy."

President-elect Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Queen Theater on December 1, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware He told The New York Times there would no immediate change to U.S. China policy. Alex Wong/Getty Images

"I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs," Biden told The Times, "I'm not going to prejudice my options."

"The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our, or at least what used to be our, allies on the same page.

"It's going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies," he added.

In a swipe on the effectiveness of Trump's approach to China, Biden said he would want to pursue trade policies "that actually produce progress on China's abusive practices," referring to intellectual property theft, product dumping and "illegal" subsidies to companies.

He would also target "tech transfers" from U.S. firms to their Chinese counterparts.

In Biden's view, dealing with China would be about "leverage" and he said, "in my view, we don't have it yet."

That leverage would come from getting bipartisan support for initiatives that would push American investment into industry, education and research and development so the U.S. could better compete with China.

"I want to make sure we're going to fight like hell by investing in America first. I'm not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home," Biden told The Times' Thomas Friedman in the wide-ranging interview about his domestic and foreign policy ambitions.