Former ambassador says U.S.-China tensions won't go away no matter who wins

Key Points
  • The United States needs to adopt a multilateral approach in dealing with China, according to former U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke.
  • If the U.S. unilaterally continues its efforts against China, then American consumers and businesses will lose out, he said.
Trump's approach to U.S.-China relations has hurt U.S. consumers, businesses: Ex-ambassador

The United States needs to adopt a multilateral approach in dealing with China, according to a former U.S. ambassador.

Relations between Washington and Beijing have worsened over the last few years due to a trade war between the two countries, U.S. sanctions against Chinese companies and increased American support for Taiwan as well as India. President Donald Trump and his administration have blamed China for its unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft, and more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

"A multilateral approach is the only way to be successful and to really get China to take these issues seriously," Gary Locke, a former U.S. ambassador to China during the Obama administration, told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia" on Wednesday morning.

"Because if the rest of the world is not involved and it's only involving the United States, then the United States will lose. Our consumers and our companies will lose," Locke said.

Vote counting is currently underway for the 2020 presidential election where President Donald Trump is running against former Vice President Joe Biden.

Locke, who said he had been "working very hard" on Biden's campaign, said that if the former vice president wins the presidency, his administration will continue to raise issues around China's human rights, freedom of the press, autonomy of Hong Kong and Taiwan with Beijing.

On the trade front, Biden could come up with a unified position and strategy against China that would involve other U.S. allies with similar complaints toward Beijing as Washington does, according to Locke. Currently, those countries are sitting on the sidelines in the trade fight between the U.S. and China and are actually benefiting from those tensions, he said, adding that Trump's approach has hurt American consumers and businesses.

To be clear, the U.S. and China signed a phase one trade deal this year to rein in the more than 18-month trade war.

Biden has previously said he would work more closely with American allies in order to mount a pushback against China.

At the same time, it is possible for the U.S. to cooperate with China on areas like climate change, health care, medical research and even humanitarian efforts around the world, Locke said. "We have a lot of interests in common while we have also some very fundamental differences on our economic trade policies and clearly with respect to human rights."

"But we should be able to separate the two and continue to proceed vigorously in terms of partnerships that benefit the entire world as well as our own constituents ... while also addressing these fundamental differences," he added.