Sino-US re­la­tions in the Trump era

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

The elec­tion of Don­ald Trump as the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States nat­u­rally has many ob­servers ner­vous about the pol­icy con­se­quences. Here in the US, the re­ac­tions of many of Trump’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were apoplec­tic at first; over­seas, many are re­act­ing to these do­mes­tic re­sponses, and draw­ing dire con­clu­sions.

The lack of deep pol­icy de­bate dur­ing this pres­i­den­tial cam­paign has left many to try to weave pol­icy in­ter­pre­ta­tions to­gether from terse sound bytes and ran­dom re­sponses to the twists and turns of cam­paign pol­i­tics. There­fore, it is wise to look to fun­da­men­tals rather than emo­tional out­bursts.

Be­yond ques­tions of cam­paign tac­tics and the tone of this elec­tion, it can be said fairly that the elec­tion of Trump turned on at least sev­eral im­por­tant pub­lic per­cep­tions: Stag­na­tion of Amer­i­can in­comes and op­por­tu­nity, per­ceived as com­ing from the un­fair ef­fects of glob­al­iza­tion and in­cor­rect do­mes­tic pol­icy pref­er­ences; overex­ten­sion ofUS mil­i­tary power on peripheral threats and weak­ness at the core; and inat­ten­tion to theUS’ do­mes­tic econ­omy and in­fra­struc­ture.

Trump ap­pealed to his vot­ers by of­fer­ing to ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter terms for Amer­ica’s eco­nomic and se­cu­rity ar­range­ments with the rest of the world. He did not say he would iso­late the US, but that as a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man, he knows how to drive a bet­ter bar­gain.

He promised to ad­dress the gaps and short­falls inUS de­fenses that have de­vel­oped dur­ing years of bud­get “se­ques­tra­tion”. He will ask Amer­ica’s se­cu­rity part­ners and al­lies to re­main to­gether but to do more in their own de­fense and rely less onUS se­cu­rity largesse. And he re­flected the ob­serv­able twin im­pulses of the Amer­i­can peo­ple to be less in­volved in non-vi­tal do­mes­tic or re­gional con­flicts, but also to be vig­i­lant and ef­fec­tive against threats such as from the Is­lamic State group.

Trump has sig­naled his in­ten­tion to stim­u­late the ane­mic US econ­omy through, among other things, con­struc­tion to re­pair crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture and new in­fra­struc­ture for a 21st cen­tury econ­omy. As a New Yorker, he knows how the city was raised to great­ness in large mea­sure through mas­sive in­fra­struc­ture im­prove­ments led by the vi­sion­ary RobertMoses. It is time for a new vi­sion. He pledges to trim back over-reg­u­la­tion im­posed in re­cent years on the econ­omy and so­ci­ety to find new sources of growth.

How should China re­act to all this? First, the dra­matic re­di­rect­ion in US ad­min­is­tra­tions is an op­por­tu­nity for Bei­jing to re­frame con­struc­tively the re­cent nar­ra­tive in US-China re­la­tions. Since the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced its “re­bal­ance” or “pivot” to Asia pol­icy, the mix of com­pe­ti­tion and co­op­er­a­tion has steadily seen the com­pet­i­tive as­pects, in­clud­ing mil­i­tary de­ploy­ments, as­sume a larger role than the co­op­er­a­tive, such as the agree­ment on cli­mate change.

Chi­nese ob­servers say the “re­bal­ance” is an at­tempt to con­tain China’s rise. The re­cent US rhetor­i­cal fo­cus on strength­en­ing al­liances in the western Pa­cific re­in­forced this per­cep­tion.

China has re­sponded to this in its own re­gion with of­fers to help eco­nom­i­cally. This was sym­bol­ized dra­mat­i­cally with con­tracts signed for loans and in­fra­struc­ture dur­ing the re­cent visit of Philippine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte to Bei­jing. It is part of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt and 21st Cen­tury Mar­itime Silk Road) of Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. I call this re­sponse by Bei­jing the Chi­nese coun­ter­bal­ance to the Amer­i­can re­bal­ance.

Bei­jing has ac­com­pa­nied this with growth of its mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­i­ties and ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing the con­struc­tion of ar­ti­fi­cial fea­tures in the South China Sea. But since the ar­bi­tral tri­bunal’s award in July, Bei­jing has been ex­press­ing its de­sire “to turn the page”, and the deci­bel lev­els of of­fi­cial pro­nounce­ments on both sides have de­clined.

Trump’s elec­tion is an op­por­tu­nity for theUS and China to con­struct an ex­plic­itly co­op­er­a­tive agenda. The goal should be to estab­lish a pos­i­tive con­text within which to man­age the in­evitable strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion in the western Pa­cific.

A newap­proach should start with a calm ef­fort to ad­dress spe­cific sources of con­cern. On the eco­nomic side, Bei­jing should ex­plain and reaf­firm its own re­form agenda, that as China moves up the eco­nomic lad­der and con­sumes more, its mar­kets will open toUS ex­ports, ser­vices and in­vest­ment; it will take mea­sures to en­sure that dump­ing of steel and other prod­ucts is not con­doned; and of­fer cred­its and co­op­er­a­tion for theUS’ in­fra­struc­ture re­vi­tal­iza­tion.

Now that the po­lit­i­cal grid­lock of re­cent years is about to end, China should project it­self as the US’ eco­nomic part­ner, to com­ple­ment and not to com­pete with the Amer­i­can econ­omy. And since the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship Agree­ment is in a coma, China should re­mind Trump of the po­ten­tial to un­lock op­por­tu­nity with the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pa­cific, orig­i­nally an Amer­i­can idea, now cham­pi­oned by Bei­jing.

On the se­cu­rity side, China should in­vite Trump to a Sun­ny­lands-like meet­ing in the first six months of his term. Trump and Xi are not sched­uled to at­tend in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences un­til late in the year, too late if we are to re­write proac­tively the Sino-US nar­ra­tive. So Bei­jing should use the op­por­tu­nity to man­age the strate­gic com­pe­ti­tion and ad­dress spe­cific chal­lenges, such as the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea’s con­tin­u­ing se­ri­ous provo­ca­tions dur­ing next year’s tran­si­tion pe­riod in the US and pos­si­bly the Repub­lic of Korea.

These ini­tia­tives would be a wel­come ex­am­ple of a new­type of ma­jor coun­try re­la­tion­ship. The author is vice-pres­i­dent for stud­ies at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace.


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