Donald Trump's future China policy trends

By Zhao Kejin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, December 16, 2016
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On Nov. 9, 2016, Donald Trump was elected as the 45th U.S. president. His election will bring a range of uncertainty to the U.S. and international relations. Furthermore, his campaign promise, including America first, retrenching strategic resources and sharply adjusting domestic and international policies, makes people worry more about America's domestic and international policies in the future. Policy towards China will also be affected by the uncertainty; thus how to deal with Trump's future China policy becomes an urgent question China has to face right now.

America's foreign policy-making is a decentralized system, in which the president is merely one influencing factor. There are three elements that might affect future U.S.-China policy during Trump's presidency:

First is personnel, which includes Trump and his team's opinion, and American think tank and strategy researchers' discussions on U.S. future policy towards China. American think tanks' perspective on Sino-U.S. relations is still an important factor that can affect Trump's decision.

Second is the institutional element, which includes the influence of U.S. parliament, administrative departments and interest groups on policy towards China. Separation of powers decides that U.S. policy towards China is a result of interaction between government departments, rather than Trump or his team's monopoly.

Third is the international environment, which includes the influences of other great powers and third countries.

Trump's future China policy agenda made its first appearance during the election campaign. Generally speaking, in Trump's governance layout, domestic affairs are prior to international ones, or even we could say international affairs have to serve domestic ones.

Trump's future foreign policy may focus on the following trends: Emphasizing America as first in the Western world while narrowing America's global strategic scope, so as to reinforce its domestic interest; speeding up relationship reparations with Russia, so as to stabilize its strategic layout through U.S.-Russia strategic cooperation; containing a rising China to prevent it from being the world's super power and going beyond U.S.'s control; adjusting U.S.'s relations with its allies, so as to release some burden from its shoulder and let the allies bear more international responsibility; and fighting against Islamic and international terrorism.

The above may set up Trump's global strategic framework, under which U.S. policy towards China will follow following directions:

Firstly, Trump's future China policy will maintain the "engagement plus vigilance" path inherited from previous presidents. As a businessman, Trump may value more the maintaining and stabilizing of common interests, and enlarging of America's interest. Thus, engaging China will be the priority issue in Trump's future China policy. For communication style, Trump will stress more pragmatic problems rather than ritual contact. For competitive interest, Trump may challenge Chinese leaders directly and bring more friction and conflict to bilateral meetings.

Secondly, Trump's future China strategy will focus on trade and exchange rate policies. During his campaign, Trump always connected China with problems on trade, employment and exchange rate topics. Most of his supporters belong to the middle class and unemployed groups, pushing Trump to deal with those problems first after coming to power.

Third, Trump's future China policy will put geopolitical and security strategies in second place, in contrast to Obama's "rebalancing to Asia." Trump believed that the U.S. has taken more obligations than their allies, and hoped that its allies will bear more responsibility in future. According to Washington think tanks and strategic researchers, the U.S. currently could do little in relation to Taiwan and South China Sea issues, but should attach more importance to Northeast Asia, especially the Korean Peninsula.

Fourth, Trump's future China policy will decrease America's participation in global governance. Putting America first as the priority, Trump will definitely pass the buck. On international issues, Trump may reduce America's involvement in topics, such as UN climate change, maintaining international peace, and global development. In regional areas, the U.S. will delay the TPP procedure, decrease participation in NATO, and narrow America's strategic defensive line, in order to solve domestic problems first.

Fifth, Trump's future China policy will reduce pressure on human rights and value issues. Trump seems not to care about value issues, but pays more attention to immigration and integration of values in domestic society.

Of course, Trump's future China policy will also be affected by China. What kinds of policies will the Chinese government take, and whether Chinese leaders could communicate smoothly with Trump's government will become a significant factor to the U.S. policy. How to deal with Trump as the U.S. president, and reduce bilateral conflicts caused by trade interests will become a headache question for Chinese leaders.

Zhao Kejin is the deputy director and associate professor of the Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University, and a senior researcher at Charhar Institute.

The article was translated by Lin Liyao. Its original unabridged version was published in Chinese.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors only, not necessarily those of

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