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Foreign Policy

Outlook for Trump’s China Policy

Dec 14 , 2016
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

To better understand the United Sates possible future policy on China under the principle of “America first” and “Make America great again” put forward by President-elect Donald Trump, two issues have to be discussed more fully as they have a deep impact on the China policy of the future Trump administration. One is whether the U.S. has started to decline or to lag behind others in world competition, and the other is whether the future Trump administration will pursue a policy of neo-isolationism and concentrate on domestic affairs or continue the current U.S. global strategy to maintain world hegemony.

Continuing discussions on whether the U.S. is on the decline have produced no consensus. However,major arguments are basically clear. The continued shrinkage in the last 20 years or so of the proportion of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in the total world GDP has often been cited as a main argument that the U.S. is in decline. Another argument supporting this viewpoint is the list of the specific areas in which the U.S. is lagging behind others. This list includes the total volume of the annual commodities trade, steel and iron output, and supercomputer calculating speed, and so on. But the other side of the coin is the fact that the total world GDP has grown by a big margin due to the mass rise of the newly emerging economies represented by China. This is the most fundamental cause of the fall of the proportion of the U.S. GDP in the world total. What is more important is the fact that the U.S. annual GDP has shown steady mild growth before and after a short period of about 14 months’ shrinkage due to the financial crisis. It is perhaps the best performance among all developed countries. The level of U.S. science and technology is the highest in the world, supporting the strong productive forces. The U.S. is still considered the frontrunner in economic competitiveness and labor productivity. No one denies that the U.S. armed forces are best equipped and the U.S. is the best in manufacturing military equipment. The U.S. also enjoys a lot of benefits as the dollar is still the chief international reserve currency. Therefore, it is fair to say that the U.S. is lagging behind others in world competition, but it is not declining in absolute terms or in comparison with itself.

As for the political stalemate in budget negotiation, political corruption, distinct disparity between the rich and the poor and many chronic social problems, it has to be recognized that they have started to diminish social and economic development, but they are not yet serious enough to enforce a historic transformation throughout the country. It is painful and also takes time to initiate a meaningful social revolution to thoroughly eradicate or correct them.

The U.S. is the only superpower in the world. It relies heavily on world natural and human resources as well as the global market. Without the rest of the world and the international space, U.S. hegemony would be exhausted. Therefore, the future Trump administration would not concentrate on domestic affairs only, but would continue to reach out to the outside world and carry out the long-term global strategy as agreed upon by both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. This strategy may include maintenance of world hegemony, continuance of the military alliance strategy, maintenance of its superiority of its military strength and of its technology in space, air and sea, and of its dominance in rule-making in global trade and investment. The most likely change could be the U.S. demand for more contributions, to its own prosperity and to world security, made by its allies and partners More U.S. egoistic practices would cause others to drive a hard bargain in their dealings with the U.S.

Based on the above-mentioned assessments, a few clues to the China policy of the future Trump administration may be in sight. As the U.S. and China are the two largest economies in the world, the healthy evolution of their bilateral relations involves the world situation and vital interests of the U.S. The future Trump administration is likely to wish to see the smooth development of Sino-U.S. relations in the years to come. Expansion of cooperation in areas that the two countries have common interests would be the first priority of both sides. More efforts will be made to help boost the economic growth of both countries through trade and investment. There would be both cooperation and friction in world security, especially in Asia. The relations between the two armed forces are lagging behind as compared with the overall bilateral relations. The future Trump administration would make more efforts to enhance the relations only when both sides have made more progress in increasing mutual political trust or reached agreement on expanding military exchanges and cooperation. As the telephone conversation on Dec 2 between Trump and the regional leader of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen indicates, the Trump transition team lacks a deep understanding of the weight and complexity of the Taiwan issue in Sino-U.S. relations. More trouble would be made for Sino-U.S. relations if the policymakers of the future Trump administration fail to do more homework on the Taiwan issue.

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