Trump hands a diplo­matic vic­tory to China

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­pears on Bloomberg View:

A sigh of re­lief just rip­pled across Asia — and the other six con­ti­nents.

Don­ald Trump is not, af­ter all, too in­ter­ested in blow­ing up the world’s sin­gle most im­por­tant bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

Late last year, Trump set the re­gion and world on edge by ques­tion­ing the “One China” pol­icy that has sta­bi­lized U.S.-China re­la­tions for nearly four decades. Late last week, Trump walked that back, af­firm­ing the pol­icy in a long-de­layed phone call with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jinping.

As wel­come as this out­come is, it’s worth not­ing that it was hardly in­evitable and may not be last­ing.

In­deed, given cur­rent ten­sions be­tween the U.S. and China, much could have gone — still could go — wrong. It’s a good bet that last week’s “un­safe en­counter” be­tween U.S. and Chi­nese war­planes won’t be the last.

Some ten­sion is in­evitable in this re­la­tion­ship, but it’s hard to ar­gue Trump is mak­ing things bet­ter. In for­eign pol­icy es­pe­cially, his bel­liger­ence could un­der­mine both U.S. se­cu­rity (if it’s ever acted on) and cred­i­bil­ity (when it isn’t). Now that Trump’s threat has been ex­posed as empty, the U.S. is ar­guably in a worse po­si­tion than be­fore. Trump has in ef­fect handed Xi a diplo­matic vic­tory. The fact is, co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the U.S. and China is manda­tory if the world is to meet such pro­found chal­lenges as nu­clear pro­lif­er­a­tion and cli­mate change. More­over, there is a lot the U.S. can and should do to im­prove the terms of its eco­nomic re­la­tions with China and strengthen the global econ­omy in the bar­gain. The high-wire drama of the last few months has done noth­ing to ad­vance any of those goals.

The same might well be said about Trump’s threats to tear up other al­liances and trade agree­ments, to up­end U.S. im­mi­gra­tion law and pro­ce­dures, and to build walls.

Never mind the time spent by re­cently con­firmed cab­i­net mem­bers to smooth over the re­la­tion­ships roiled by such blus­ter.

The real dan­ger of this un­cre­ative de­struc­tion is that it leaves the U.S., and the world, more vul­ner­a­ble when the next cri­sis hits.

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