US President Donald Trump
on Monday formally abandoned the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal, fulfilling his campaign promises and showing his determination to safeguard US interests in a way he thinks is appropriate.
The TPP was injected with heavy geopolitical connotations and was brokered by former president Barack Obama to facilitate his rebalance to the Asia-Pacific strategy. It obviously aims to contain China's rising influence in Asia and does not bring many direct benefits to the US.
Trump's decision to withdraw from the TPP will weaken Washington's ability of wooing other countries to squeeze out China, thus seemingly bringing some relief to China.
But Trump's hasty chase after US interests, in disregard of anything else, may pose bigger long-term risks to China. After Trump withdrew from the TPP, he said he would pursue bilateral trade deals. Nonetheless, China, Japan and Mexico are among the US trade partners that drew the most criticism from the Trump team.
China may be the primary target, because in the eyes of Trump's team, China has the largest trade surplus with the US and bilateral trade with China is the most "unfair" relationship. They expect China to make concessions on trade by maneuvering the Taiwan question and the South China Sea disputes.
From this sense, there is no reason for China to hail the "death" of the TPP. Trump may carry out tougher measures, and we should not have the illusion that the US will cede the privilege of rule-making of international trade to China.
It seems that containing China is not the dominant strategy of Trump. He is likely to develop the US, rather than put China in check, to seek an advantageous position for his country in this bilateral relationship.
If Beijing and Washington can manage this relationship well, there may be more room for the two to engage with each other. After all, healthy competition can bring more common interests than containment and destruction.
But this is only a possibility. The problem is that Trump stubbornly believes that Asian economies like China and the North American market brought harm to the US through unfair trade rules, and that so long as he changes policies, he can boost domestic employment.
Trump is perhaps the leader of a superpower who has the most protectionist sentiment in a long time, but he is bound to meet with many setbacks. As the world's most powerful country and the main rule-maker, if the US cannot benefit from the existing world order, it will only benefit less when the world is mired in chaos.
China should be prepared for conflicts with the Trump administration. Once a trade war or geopolitical frictions with the US occur, China will likely win the most sympathy and support from the international community. We do not have to be awed by the Trump administration.
Trump distorts the world pattern, which will cripple the trust of US allies toward Washington. China should seek this chance to improve relations with other countries and resolve disputes. Meanwhile, it should strengthen domestic reforms to add incentives for the Chinese market to international capital. That is where China's competitiveness lies.