Trump’s cabinet must scramble to figure out a China policy

By Zhou Jiaxin Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/18 21:53:39

The current key cabinet nominees of US President-elect Donald Trump who takes office on January 20, 2017.Photo:AFP

The current key cabinet nominees of US President-elect Donald Trump who takes office on January 20, 2017.Photo:AFP

US President Barack Obama on Friday urged his successor Donald Trump to think through the consequences of his actions in light of the president-elect's odd pre-inauguration ideas on foreign policy, including China's Taiwan question, which is set to provoke ongoing struggles among the recently picked cabinet nominees.

The foreign policy of the Trump administration will depend a good deal on who gets the key jobs - secretary of state and secretary of defense, as well as national security adviser, Niall Ferguson, a history expert at Harvard University, said in an article published in The National Interest.

The real estate tycoon, who has added the rich, the white, and the retired generals but no "China hands" to his cabinet, challenged the protocol-based one-China policy in an interview with Fox News a week ago, after he directly talked to the Taiwan leader, a decades-old Washington taboo that Beijing is "seriously concerned" about.

"The idea of the one-China policy is at the heart of their [Chinese] conception as a nation, and so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through what are the consequences," Obama said at what was likely his last White House news conference, warning Trump not to incur Beijing's "very significant" reaction.

"Given that there are few China experts among Trump's aides and cabinet nominees, diplomatic risks facing Beijing in the short term may include the "3Ts" - Taiwan, Tibet and Trade, questions that unseasoned US diplomats are poised to raise - and some other issues rarely mentioned on the Sino-US relations agenda," Lin Hongyu, dean of the College of International Relations with Huaqiao University, told the Global Times.

Trump has wrapped up his picks for some key cabinet posts last week, including secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has developed a rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as defense secretary, retired General James Mattis, a critic of the Obama administration, as well as the commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, who has advocated threats to impose steep tariffs on China, the New York Times said.

On Tweet, Trump also put Beijing's nose out of joint by accusing China of its currency policy and military presence in the South China Sea, and denied Beijing's unremitting efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Beijing should "take a tougher stance" toward Trump's rhetoric, and not encourage his risk-taking streak acquired from the business world, Lin added.

Transactional diplomacy

"Apart from his businessmen complex and the partisan need to balance Republicans' interests in arms and oil, Trump picked Tillerson in hopes of improving US-Russia relations," Lin said, implying the "amelioration strategy" otherwise might shrink the space for the Sino-Russian relationships in view of its competition-oriented transactional policy.

"It would not be good news for Sino-US relations if the 'attempt' were made, but time will tell."

Other retired generals like Michael Flynn and John Kelly have also been nominated as national security adviser and the homeland security secretary, a move to meet Trump's campaign promise to boost the US military.

Trump called for 90,000 more soldiers, a 350-ship navy, 100 more fighters, and strengthened nuclear and missile defenses, with an estimated military spending rising from the former $500 billion to $1 trillion, according to Forbes.

"Trump hired hard-line veterans to fulfill his ambition of military expansion," suggested Niu Xinchun, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, noting that his bargain-with-strength transactional diplomacy would focus on "America first," which in Lin's comparison to the Reagan administration is intended to stimulate the economy by defense spending.

Lin Zhiyuan, a US military expert at the PLA Academy of Military Sciences, told the Global Times that the US will reboot a "global rebalance" and will continue its "freedom of navigation" operations in the South China Sea, saying Trump may replace the key words - "pivot" and "balance" - from the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific strategy and pick others instead.

"The veterans [in his cabinet] and military experts will no doubt seek regular access to Trump, reminding him of America's core values in the region," Lin said.

Thucydides trap?

Top US diplomat Henry Kissinger, author of the 2014 book World Order, has outlined a likely deterioration in Sino-US relations, saying the two countries may tumble into the so-called "Thucydides trap" that history sets for every incumbent power and the rising power that challenges it.

From the "balancing power" to the "great power," China's changes in its global position have brought about an "alarmist" Washington mindset - more cautious while being less cooperative with Beijing, Lin said.

"China now is an advocate of a new world order as Beijing has mapped out the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and One Belt One Road initiative, which empower China as a global rule maker and that may have disquieted the US," Lin added.

On the other side, China has advantage over the "interior market" but weaker performance in its management of currency, market economy, military, ally system, environmental protection and innovation industry when compared with the US, argued Shen Dingli, a professor at the Institute of International Studies with Fudan University.

During his visit to the US in September 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping dismissed the "trap" prospect of the bilateral relations amid the boasted "China threat theory."

"If China and the US cooperate well, they can become the bedrock of global stability and a booster of world peace," Xi said.

"The core missions for the Trump administration are jobs, anti-terrorism and immigration issues," Niu said, stressing that the only "conflict" between the two countries currently refers to Trump's "US-jobs-stolen-by-China" conception triggered by "yesterday's problems."

US-based National Committee on US-China Relations on Friday tweeted Boeing Vice Chairman Raymond Conner's quotation as saying that the Chinese aviation market supports 150,000 American jobs, indicating "affluent space" for Sino-US collaboration.

The [Sino-US] collaboration in areas such as the global economy, climate change and regional security is a must, Niu said.

For the "trap" part, Obama added that "there is also the potential - if that relationship breaks down or goes into a full conflict mode - that everybody is worse off."

Newspaper headline: American crossroad

Posted in: AMERICAS

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