Trump should reassess importance of China-US relations

At the time of socialised information and popular zeal for immediate news, many comments about President-elect Donald Trump seem to focus on his team-building and policy formulation. Important as they are, China should not be dancing to Trump’s tune, but look to taking creative initiatives and proactively shape possible alternatives. In this regard, five suggestions can be made here to Trump for maintaining peace and prosperity of the world in general and stable, win-win China-US relations in particular.

First, Trump should move along with, rather than go against the trends of our times. The reconfiguration of powers between the United States and the other major players is one of today’s most significant developments. History is a mirror that could help us to see the future more clearly. The beginning of the this century coincided with the presidency of George W Bush, whose two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq greatly weakened the United States’ status as the world’s sole superpower.

Although the US’ relative decline will be long and even feature some partial resilience and reversion, historical trends cannot be reversed, whether by conventional or unconventional approaches. Moreover, the US, as an established power, cannot sleep on its glorious past by blaming others who are catching up and overtaking it. Indeed, Trump has to gauge his country by the hard truth of the realities. Therefore, the US needs to follow the globalisation path with forward-looking thoughts and holding the high-end of economic and scientific developments.

Second, Trump should truly understand his mandate and know his limits. The American voters have wished that Trump should lead the country out of the present debacles and difficulties. They want radical improvements in the deteriorating situation through strong leadership, even if it means they will have to accept an unconventional administration. However, while giving a mandate for drastic and fundamental changes, the American people are not giving the green light to rash and careless strategies and policies.

As a country, the US is generally governed by its established constitution and institutions, most of which the president cannot deny but follow. As the president, Trump has to turn himself from a businessman to a “statesman”. A businessman in New York City is very different from a statesman in Washington, DC. The businessman’s DNA alone is far from enough to become a successful president of the United States.

Third, Trump should learn to deal with the intricate and complex global affairs. The devil is in the details. At the beginning of his learning curve, it would be safer for him to be prudent in the actual handling of foreign policies. At the least, he needs to avoid wading into the following three troubled waters. One, he should not to be addicted to oversimplification and emotionalisation. Twitter did help him win the election, but it would not lead to successful foreign policies. Two, he should not replace multilateralism with unilateralism.

The president-elect threatens withdrawals from the Climate Change Paris Agreement, Iran Nuclear Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement, among others. President George W Bush had paid dearly for his approaches towards the United Nations, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Last, he should avoid equating all of his unconventional decision-making to the essential institutional revolution. It is true that the US needs revolutions in state apparatus. However, these revolutions should be well-designed and carefully-executed.

Fourth, Trump should have integrated thoughts on the US strategy and policy towards China. The two countries have special responsibility of maintaining peace and development of the world. He should put China-US relations in the global and regional contexts; this will help him have a China policy that will benefit both the countries. Therefore, when formulating the China strategy and directing China policy, Trump must factor in all the possible.

It is extremely so at this early period of policy formulation. His phone talk with Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen is a serious breach of the One-China Policy by eight consecutive US administrations since President Nixon. In the same vein, his rash comments on China have also caused grave concerns and introduced new uncertainties. Indeed, Trump is barking up the wrong tree when he attributes most of America’s economic problems to China.

Counterproductive measure
Firth and the last, Trump should differentiate geo-strategic commitments and economic engagements. Given the fact that the US has to adopt geo-strategic and geo-political retrenchments, the president-elect must realise that counter-economic-globalisation is counterproductive. Most countries believe that globalisation is inevitable and they will move along with the historical trends. Trump could persuade some American enterprises to stay at home but he will not be able to tear up all market rules.

In terms of global and regional governance, the US will lose much more by staying out than in. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a good case in point. President Barack Obama made a wrong decision not to join the AIIB and had to regret it later.

Even regarding China’s so-called currency manipulation, the Wall Street Journal’s comment advises him: “Donald Trump says he'll declare soon after he takes office that China is a currency manipulator because it is devaluing the yuan against the dollar. He may want to rethink that.” 

All the aforementioned advice points are both well-intentioned and win-win oriented. China believes that cooperation is the only correct choice for China-US relations. With its usual thinking and practice, China exercises self-restraint and Trump should reassess the importance of China-US relations. However, the internal and external developments will not wait too long. Therefore, the incoming US president must truly realise the urgency of managing US-China relations in a constructive manner.

(The writer is President Emeritus, Shanghai Institutes for International Studies)
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