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Foreign Policy

China This Week: ​Bannon Out: What now for the China-US relationship?

Aug 28 , 2017

President Donald Trump's Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, was fired on Friday, 18 August 2017. Bannon had been at odds with Trump in the lead up to his ouster, including contradicting the President on the situation in North Korea. The expelled Chief Strategist was often seen as one of China's strongest critics and the driving force behind Trump's "nationalist" ideology. Following his exit, Bannon spoke to The Weekly Standard noting that "the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over."

During his final days in the White House, Bannon was quoted as saying "we're at economic war with China," calling the situation on the Korean Peninsula "a sideshow." However, some speculate that his departure will only provide a temporary relief to China. According to Chen Dingding, a professor of international relations at Jinan University in Guangzhou, "it may be good for China in the short run, but it won't have a profound impact in the long run because he's just one person and Trump has the final say."

There has also been polarized speculation as to how far the Trump Administration will go in continuing to pursue Bannon's "nationalist" ideology, including his strong opposition to cooperation with China. On the one hand, there is corporate America, unions, and free trade experts who have concerns that this announcement will be followed by damaging unilateral actions. On the opposite side, there is Bannon and his base of "nationalist" supporters, who fear that "the administration will pay lip service to the fiery populist agenda, only to back down in the end."

Meanwhile, recent actions by the Trump Administration have been seen as "a sign that the Trump Administration is still willing to risk a trade war with China, despite its ouster of strategist Steve Bannon." Supporting this concern, the South China Morning Post noted that elation surrounding Bannon's departure, in hopes of better China-US relations, may turn out to be "ill justified." It was noted that "the reality is that a likely demise of the 'America first' doctrine, championed by nationalists like Bannon, may also see the United States returning to a realist posture in international relations. If so, it may well resume its global strategic rivalry with China."

Despite the less than optimistic rhetoric, others point to Bannon's departure as "a reminder that Beijing's strategy for 'containing Trump' has so far been a successful one." Further, Forbes had also discredited Bannon's misplaced presuppositions. They noted that Bannon's assumptions about the China-US economic relationship are "wrong, for trade is mutually beneficial. That is, it benefits us (the United States) to be trading with China, it benefits China to be trading with us, we all get richer together the more trade we do. This is because, as economists put it, trade is positive sum, not zero sum."

For the latest issue of China This Week, an exclusive weekly review and analysis of major trends and developments impacting the China-U.S. relations, please visit here.

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