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Foreign Policy

China-US Relations Will Be Normal after a Period of Uncertainty

Dec 09 , 2016
  • Chen Jimin

    Associate Research Fellow, CPC Party School

At present, Sino-US relations are in a transitional stage. What would be the new US administration’s China policy is yet to be seen. Historically, however, since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, the relationship has experienced ups and downs, but on the whole move forward positively. Judging from Donald Trump’s words on foreign policy during the presidential campaign, the future of Sino-US relations may show the following characteristics.

First, Sino-US relations may fluctuate in the transition period. It may be difficult for China to clearly see Trump’s policy framework and ruling style in the beginning. The Trump administration also needs time to understand the principles and strategies of China’s foreign policy. Therefore, there is a need for an adjustment period. The two sides will continue to engage in more dialogue and communications. There are likely to be twists and turns in the transition period.

Second, the game of Sino-US economic and trade relations could be intensified. Economic issues like trade imbalance, the RMB exchange rate, the loss of US jobs and US debts may cause some conflicts in China-US relations, but it will not trigger a trade war. During the campaign, president-elect Trump expressed his strong concerns on these issues. These issues are also causing the most worry among the American public when it comes to Sino-US relations. Trump may take tough positions on these issues. However, the China-US economic relationship has become deeply integrated and interdependent, even becoming a community of interests to some extent. In the short term, the US can bear the pressure and costs caused by the tough economic policy to China. But it cannot be sustainable in the long run. Putting US interests in first place, Trump will make a compromise with China on the trade and economic issues. It is unlikely the US would launch a trade war with China.

Third, the competition in security may be more prominent. So far it is not clear what security strategy Trump will take. For the moment, Trump’s primary security strategy is to defeat ISIS. In this context, the Trump administration would like to improve the relationship with Russia. In his victory speech, Trump made it clear that “we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.” Russian President Vladimir Putin also expressed the wish to ease Russia-US relations in his congratulatory message to Trump. Trump has not revealed his ideas on the Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy. However, the US focus on Asia is not based on his personal wishes, but rather Asia’s strategic importance and the challenges arising in the region. In the world economic map, Asia has become the driving force of global economic growth.

Trump promised to double the US economy, which is bound to integrate the US economy into the Asian economy. There are many critical challenges to US primacy in Asia. The Trump administration may strengthen military deployment in the region. The US regional alliance may see some changes, but not necessarily be weakened. It is hoped that the security competition will not lead to direct military confrontation between China and the US.

Fourth, there might be less ideological contest, although Trump did seem to pay much attention to ideological issues. In his speech on April 27, he argued that the promotion of democracy in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other places have created US dilemmas in these regions. He said these troubles “all began with the dangerous idea that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interest in becoming a Western democracy.” It does not mean that Trump has no impulse to promote American values, but for the time being he doesn’t put it as a priority in his foreign policy agenda.

In short, it can be expected that the balance of power between the two sides will continue to change but that the importance and sensitivity of Sino-US relations will also increase. It is wished that the bilateral relationship may be back in the conventional development track after some uncertainty and even fluctuations in the transitional period after Trump gets into the White House.

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