20.12.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

China and the New US President

435342341231Since the results of the US presidential election made it clear that US foreign policy would not be the same, many wish they had a crystal ball that could foretell “what lies ahead.” Today, the chances are high that the main global power, which has been heavily influencing the world order in the post-cold war era, will be altering its global footprint. But what exactly will it change?

Two major Asia-Pacific powers—China and Japan—are closely following the developments. In its previous articles, NEO has already discussed the approaches Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe employed to “feel Washington’s political pulse. PM Abe, was, of course, focusing on the issues topical for Tokyo, including the prospective ratification of the Transpacific Partnership and the standing of the US-Japan military-political alliance.

As for China, the content of the congratulatory call made by Chinese leader XI Jinping, Beijing’s reaction to the congratulations delivered to Donald Trump by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen as well as headlines of numerous articles addressing different aspects of Sino-American relations create a rather true-to-life picture of China’s expectations and worries.

A quick glance at this picture leaves the impression that China hopes that the two largest world economies will find common ground for the development of beneficial cooperation based on the principle of mutual respect and will promote “world and regional peace, stability and prosperity”.

The keywords of Xi Jinping’s congratulatory note above reflect the core of the policy China has been exercising in the recent years with regard to the US. It reflects two competing trends: close economic cooperation (not void of serious disagreements, of course), on the one hand, and the escalating political confrontation arising today as a core challenge in the new global game, on the other.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump demonstrated little concern over political disagreements, while concentrating on the challenges in bilateral economic relations.

And if the (long-standing) claims that China has been “manipulating the yuan exchange rate” and selling goods at dumping prices deserve some attention, Beijing certainly should not be blamed for its alleged contribution to the “deindustrialization” of the United States (i.e., outsourcing of production to the countries with cheap labour, primarily to China).

As for Donald Trump’s pre-election promise to “bring the production back to the US” (as a retaliatory measure), China seriously doubts both its feasibility and profitability (for the US).

The very fact that the parties have engaged in the discussion of this topic indicates that the phenomenon of economic globalization is undergoing an amazing metamorphosis, which was unthinkable even a year ago.

What is curious, however, is that the recent driving force behind economic globalization (the US and the UK) are now making every effort to slow down the globalization process by introducing protectionist measures.

The Asian economic giants such as Japan and China, which have literally made a fortune by supporting the lifting of barriers obstructing economic globalization, are now taking the lead.

In his speech at the last summit of member countries of the Transpacific Partnership, held in Lima on November 19 on the sidelines of the previous APEC Forum, Japanese PM Abe made a point that “the protectionist trend” is something everyone should be concerned about. According to Mr. Abe, both Brexit and Mr. Trump’s intention to withdraw the US from TPP are features of this trend.

However, the role of the leading anti-protectionism crusader and promoter of economic globalization is being vied for by China.

Beijing keeps sending clear messages to Washington conveying that if the latter does not abandon its protectionist projects spoken about by the new American President, some Southeast Asian countries (first of all Vietnam) will “disappoint Washington.” It would be instructive to recall that the USA achieved a major breakthrough in its international policy when it managed to acquire a strong position in those countries.

Vietnam has already announced that it would postpone ratification of the TPP treaty indefinitely. Immediately thereafter, the Global Times speculated that if Donald Trump continues his pursuit, he might push Southeast Asian countries into China’s arms.

In other words, Beijing is trying to persuade the new American President that, first of all, there is no reason to clash with China, secondly, the US might fall victim in such clashes.

Beijing’s messages are reasonable enough for the future administration of Mr. Trump to give them a serious thought.

Moreover, Beijing is allowing Washington room to manoeuvre. For example, China has assessed its own reaction to the sensational phone conversation between President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen and Donald Trump on the occasion of election of the latter as President of the United States of America as “moderate”.

Finally, though it is speculated that the meeting held by the newly elected US President Donald Trump and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe was anti-Chinese in nature, such speculations are rather frivolous. Neither the content of the dialogue nor the commentaries published in the press before and after the meeting provide grounds for such conclusions.

In fact, considering that the meeting lasted for just an hour and a half, the leaders had never met before, moreover one of them had not even been inaugurated, the only thing the parties could have managed to accomplish is to check each other’s stance on some critical issues.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the country considered by both allies the main source of threats to national interests must have been “present” at the negotiating table in Trump Tower in some form.

Based on the foregoing, it can be safely assumed that there is more than one development scenario of relations in the “China-US-Japan” strategic triangle when the new US President takes office.

As for the Asia-Pacific countries, including Russia, they are keeping their fingers crossed that these relations may be more or less balanced.

Apparently, the development of the Russian Far East and Siberia can only be launched if relations in this triangle are at least somewhat balanced if not fully harmonious.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”