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Foreign Policy

The Devil’s Still in Details of Trump’s China Views

May 09 , 2017
  • Ma Shikun

    Senior Journalist, the People’s Daily

With President Trump having completed his first 100 days in office, people here have varying views on how Trump has handled his China policy.

On the whole, Trump has attached importance to China and has taken a positive attitude toward China US relations, which is worthy of praise.

During the election campaign and as president-elect, Trump made some statements that upset the Chinese people, such as his questioning of the One China principle, his claiming that he would label China a currency manipulator, and suggesting he would settle the score with China on the US trade deficit. But since taking office, he seems to have changed his mind, displaying the needed ability of a politician to focus on facts and recognize right from wrong.

President Xi of China was one of the first leaders of a major country to be invited to visit the US. The two heads of state held in-depth discussions on matters of importance in China-US relations and world affairs, quickly establishing a good working and personal relationship. Afterward, Trump said that he found he had “good chemistry” with the Chinese leader, and that China is not a currency manipulator, and that the two countries should not start a trade war but try to understand each other better and expand trade and investment to resolve the US trade deficit. The two leaders also agreed to establish four high-level dialogue mechanisms covering diplomacy and security, comprehensive economic issue, law enforcement and cybersecurity, and social and people-to-people exchanges. All being well, this points to a bright future for China US relations.

Since China and the US established diplomatic relations, whenever there was a US presidential election and a new US president, bilateral relations slid to a low ebb. After some running time, relations would always turn better, but a lot of time was wasted. President Trump has broken this cycle with his willingness to get relations back on track as soon as he took office. China attaches great importance to its relationship with the US, and the Chinese people would like to see better relations with the US. Trump’s pragmatic and resolute approach has won him admiration and praise from the Chinese public.

Nevertheless, Trump’s attitude on one major issue concerning China is far less admirable.

After taking office, Trump said in an interview, “I fully understand the One China policy, but I don’t know why we have to be bound by a One China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade." This statement made it clear that Trump sees the One China policy, which is the political basis of China-US relations, as a bargaining chip with China. Has his view changed since taking office? It is doubtful. On April 27, Taiwan’s leader Tsai Ing-wen said that another phone call with Trump could take place. Trump responded by saying that President Xi Jinping is a friend, he's doing an amazing job and he wouldn't want to cause him difficulty. Even within such a friendly statement, there is a transaction at play: You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Trump needs to make a clear and unequivocal statement on the One China policy to win over the people of China and completely dispel the notion of Tsai Ing-wen and others that the US will support their dreams of independence.

On the issue of North Korea, the strategy of the Trump government to further consolidate its regional military alliance and expand its military strength in northeast Asia poses a serious threat to China’s security interests.

Although Trump announced that he would scrap President Obama’s “strategic patience” with North Korea, in reality, he has continued his predecessor’s policy, and he is still caught up in a vicious cycle and strange relationship of mutual destruction and dependence. By dispatching its most advanced aircraft carrier and submarines to the region to put more pressure on North Korea, the US is eliciting a reaction from North Korea and strengthening its resolve to develop nuclear missiles. This has given the US the opportunity and the rationale to station its THAAD missile defense system in South Korea, thereby strengthening the US-South Korea military alliance, and worsening the US-North Korea relationship. It is clear that the US and North Korea are actually benefitting from this situation. China’s security interests, however, are being damaged.

It should be noted that the US has deliberately muddied the waters by trying to turn the North Korean nuclear issue from the one between North Korea and the US into an issue between North Korea and China. Clearly, China is not one of the conflicting parties, and the US is unrealistically asking China to assume primary responsibility for solving the issue, which would damage China’s relationship with North Korea. It is even more noteworthy that some US officials and media are trying to give the impression that China has already given its tacit agreement to the use of force by the US against North Korea. This is completely contrary to the facts and is misleading public opinion. The fact is that China opposes North Korea possessing nuclear weapons, advocates the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, opposes a war and the chaos it would bring on the Korean peninsula, and advocates the settlement of issues through peaceful negotiation.

To break the deadlock, China has called for “dual suspension” and “a dual-track solution” to the issue. North Korea should suspend its activities on nuclear and missile programs while the US suspends large-scale military exercises. The”two-track” parallel strategy means both the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of peace mechanisms so as to seek a final solution of the issue. China hopes that the US will seriously consider its proposal, change the way of thinking and face the reality. Mere military threats will do nothing to solve the nuclear issue, and resorting to force will only cause serious consequences that will be out of control.

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