Apart from a short respite during US President Donald Trump's visit to China in November, 2018, the bilateral relationship between the world's two largest economies has rapidly deteriorated. The US labeled China a top security threat and a “revisionist” power, and the Trump administration has announced tariff increases on an estimated US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports for 2018. China responded by issuing its own list of US products of comparable value that would be subject to increased tariffs should the US follow through with trade sanctions. With the increasing risk of a trade war between the two countries, Newschina interviewed Li Cheng, director and senior fellow of the Washington-based John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution, on the future of the Sino-us relationship. Li, who grew up in China and moved to the US in 1985, is an expert on Chinese politics and the Sino-us relationship, and is a prolific writer. He is also a director of the National Committee on United States-china Relations.
Newschina: It has been more than a year since Donald Trump was sworn in. What do you think of his approach to foreign policy? Do you note any clarity or consistency, particularly toward China?
Li Cheng: I don't think Trump has formulated a clear and consistent foreign policy. One reason is that Trump is still under intense domestic scrutiny resulting from the investigation over his alleged collusion with Russia, and uncertainty about the result of the investigation has had a great impact on Trump's foreign policy. Another reason is that many of the key posts within the White House, especially those relating to foreign policy, are either unstaffed or have a high turnover rate, which has had a major impact on the consistency of Trump's policy. The inconsistency is particularly salient in Trump's policy toward China. During his visit to China last November, Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “good friend,” but now, China is being labeled America's top strategic adversary. To a large extent, US policy toward China is now driven by individual issues on an ad hoc basis, not by a holistic long-term strategy.
The US is used to having foreign policy masterminds such as George Kennan, A. Doak Barnett, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Henry Kissinger, Robert Zoellick and Richard Haas. However, none of the officials currently involved in making foreign policy in the Trump