Language : English 简体 繁體
Foreign Policy

Certainty and Uncertainty in Trump Diplomacy

Feb 27 , 2017
  • Yu Sui

    Professor, China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Since Donald Trump assumed the US presidency, “uncertainty” about his diplomatic orientations has been a hot topic in media discussions. The British newspaper Observer predicted on Jan 1 that “uncertainty” will be a label for 2017 and Trump will be a major reason. Assumptions like this are quite popular.

In fact, factors of certainty may be more significant, and may to some extent regulate and restrain Trump’s foreign policies.

First, the principle that diplomacy must serve the goal of “make America great again” is beyond doubt. Though there have been frustrations over the past weeks, Trump has been putting into practice what he has advocated. The basic principle is to prioritize national economic interests, instead of placing too much emphasis on ideological factors. He didn’t hesitate to offend allies and antagonize vested interests in implementing his policies. On one hand, he continues to emphasize the significance of the US-Japan alliance; on the other hand, he resolutely renounced TPP, rather than facilitating the Japanese rightists’ attempt to counter China with the trade partnership. He has not given up after his “Muslim ban” ran into many protests and legal obstacles.

Second, the US can’t ignore “peace and development”, the main theme of our time. Despite global vicissitudes and instability, people from around the world covet peace, development is a common pursuit, cooperation is the best choice, and all-win is a logical outcome. No one can ignore such a trend. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, humanity is under the serious threat of terrorism. In the face of the common enemy, the US has to collaborate with the broad international community in order to eradicate terrorism.

Third, the implications of a multi-polar world may undergo adjustment from time to time, but the basic pattern will not change. The US remains widely accepted as the only super power of the present-day world. But it can’t take care of all the complicated international affairs on its own. China has made tremendous achievements in its own peaceful development. However, despite what some people have argued, it has shown no intention to supersede the US. Brexit was indeed a heavy blow to the EU, yet the latter’s significance must not be underestimated. Russia, with the world’s largest territory and a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, is rising again. Additionally, the roles and functions of Japan, India, Brazil as well as various multi-lateral organizations in Asia, Africa and Latin America should not be neglected. Trump diplomacy can only operate in the framework of a multi-polar world.

Fourth, despite frustrations, economic globalization will not stop. Repercussions are inevitable when economic globalization comes into conflict with a country’s national interests. Trade protectionism will thus be inevitable. Yet in the long term, combination of the capital, technology and markets of economically advanced countries and under-developed countries’ labor and resources remains an irreversible, normal phenomenon. That the “Belt and Road initiative” and the principle of “win-win cooperation” are gaining currency globally testifies to this. After UN resolution 2274 for the first time incorporated contents regarding the “Belt and Road” in March 2016, the 193 member countries of the UN unanimously endorsed it.

Fifth, with signs of improvement emerging, US-Russia relations are in a process of settling. Yet the deeply rooted structural contradictions between the two countries may not be dispelled in a short term. Under the condition that some NATO members agree to share more military expenses, the US will continue enhancing the alliance, which is dubbed the “core” of the US-Europe relationship, Russia will remain the foremost target. The resignation of Michael Flynn for involvement with the Russians was a shocker. Trump once said he would maintain the sanctions on Russia for a while, and consider lifting those sanctions once Putin proves he can be an ally. The speculation that there may be a Moscow-Washington axis against Beijing, however, will prove wishful thinking. The China-US-Russia triangle relationship has special significance. The only correct option is to strike a balance among US-China, US-Russia, China-Russia relations.

Sixth, though friction is unavoidable in China-US ties, the principle of mutual respect and win-win cooperation cannot be undermined. The past more than 30 years since the two established diplomatic relationship has coincided with reform and opening up in China. The two countries have developed on parallel tracks, neither finding themselves on a collision course, nor falling into the “Thucydides trap”. Just as President Xi said, there can only be a lose-lose outcome if China and the US come into conflict.

Fortunately the Chinese and US presidents had a friendly conversation on the phone on Feb 10. Trump stated a commitment to the “one China” principle, emphasizing that as cooperative partners, through joint efforts, China and the US can elevate bilateral ties to a new level. Speaking highly of Trump’s remarks, Xi put forward specific proposals for advancing bilateral ties. This made it obvious that prophecies of war between China and the US are bellicose Cold-War era thinking that is of little relevance in our time and against the fundamental interests of both nations.

There indeed are some variables in Trump diplomacy. But variables do not equal uncertainties. The so-called variables are nothing more than the fact that Trump’s foreign policies may vacillate, and their effectiveness remains to be seen.

You might also like
Back to Top