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Foreign Policy

Trump Needs to View China from Balanced and Comprehensive Perspectives

Feb 09 , 2017
  • Su Xiaohui

    Deputy Director of Int'l & Strategic Studies, CIIS

Up to now, the U.S. President Donald Trump has not clearly outlined his foreign policies, including his designs on China-U.S. relations.

He has emphasized the key principle of America First. In his inaugural speech made on January 20, he focused on domestic issues and mentioned briefly that every decision on foreign affairs “will be made to benefit American workers and American families”. The White House website has publicized the “America First Foreign Policy”, which stated at the very beginning that the Trump Administration is committed to a foreign policy focused on American interests and American national security.

However, it seems that President Trump has not come up with a set of appropriate approaches to exercise the principle. “America First” sometimes is excessively interpreted on the basis of counting U.S. benefits. China-U.S. relationship is viewed as zero-sum game rather than win-win cooperation. Mr. Trump accused China of currency manipulation and product dumping. He even threatened to utilize the commitment on “One China” policy to pressure China to shrink its trade surplus.

At the same time, Trump abruptly touched upon the South China Sea issue. As U.S. president-elect, he made public comments on South China Sea by tweets, opposing China’s land reclamation. Lately, White House press secretary Sean Spicer warned that the U.S. would seek “to defend international territories from being taken over by one country”.

The above situations reflect the fact that Donald Trump is eager to win domestic support and show accomplishment in governance. According to his understanding, his winning of the presidential campaign resulted from people’s disappointment about the country’s economic condition, employment and the worsening wealth gap. Trump has promised that he would bring jobs back to the country and make America great again. He ascribes the underemployment in certain industries in the U.S. to the trade deficit with China. Accordingly, to challenge China on trade issue serves his desire to gain public support.

It also caters to the tastes of the interest groups demanding tough policies against China.

Donald Trump is good at business negotiation. Unfortunately, he is not experienced in foreign affairs, let alone strategic planning. Currently, he has miscalculated on China and China-U.S. relationship.

First of all, he is neglecting the opportunities brought about by China’s development. He treats China as a competitor instead of a partner for cooperation in global trade.

Second, Trump is aware of the differences and disputes between China and the U.S., but does not have a profound understanding of the issues. The remarks of Trump and his team revealed their lack of knowledge of international law. What is worse, he cannot sort out the issues relating to China’s core national interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity, which are sensitive and complex. On the South China Sea issue, it appears that Donald Trump was attempting to change the long-standing position that the Untied States does not take sides in territorial disputes. Some voices in America warned about the departure from years of cautious management of the issue and the consequent risk. He is also unclear about the “political foundation” of the relationship between the US and China and the related issues “not for debate” such as the status of Taiwan.

Third, he does not realize the importance of non-confrontation and non-conflict. The interdependence of the two countries binds their interests and destinies. A reckless decision will do harm to both sides. Since the United States and China are two important players in the international arena, their peaceful relationship is also vital to world peace and stability.

Fourth, Trump has not taken into consideration the U.S. role in international affairs. As a major power, the U.S. should be responsible with its actions and at the same time contribute to public good. What is more, it is necessary for the country to coordinate with other major powers to address global issues.

Faced with uncertainties in U.S. policies, China has sent out clear signals to the new president and administration.

China urges the Trump administration to value the bilateral relations. The China-U.S. relationship is one of the most important bilateral ties in the world. As the two biggest economies, the United States and China are expected to work with each other to maintain a stable relationship. This coincides with the interests of both sides and is also consistent with the demand of international community.

China suggests both countries adhere to key principles for the bilateral relationship. It is impossible for either side to defeat the other. The only choice for the United States and China is to get along with each other and maintain a win-win situation. Therefore, the relations must be based on “non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual benefit and win-win cooperation”. In addition, the two countries need to explore cooperation in regional and global issues.

China supports crisis management. The U.S. administration ought to understand that it is unlikely for two major powers to see totally eye-to-eye with each other and it is crucial for both sides to control disputes and find solutions. The two countries need to communicate in constructive ways to seek better understanding. Neither side is entitled to undermine the basic of the bilateral relationship.

Now China is carrying out what it considers bottom-line thinking. On one hand, China would like to improve the bilateral relationship, with joint efforts from the U.S. side. On the other hand, China will definitely prepare for the worst situation. China endeavors to promote domestic development and upgrade the nation’s strength. Internationally, China continues to implement major power diplomacy and enhance its weight in global issues. In this context, China will become more and more powerful in handling the changing environment and dealing with unexpected situations. As for the China-U.S. relationship, China is capable of drawing the red line.

Donald Trump has just started his presidency. It is not too late for him to initiate a positive stage of the bilateral relationship with China. Balanced and comprehensive perspectives are needed for U.S. policy making.

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