In key speech, Trump fixes rival tag on China

Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/31 21:43:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

US President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday, conjuring up a vision for a "new American moment" in a lengthy speech that covered infrastructure, tax cuts, immigration reform, trade and foreign policy. Can Trump unite a sharply divided US? How will describing China as a rival influence China-US relations? Trump also spoke of North Korea threats. How will this affect the resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis? The Global Times talked to three scholars over the issues. 

Li Haidong, professor with the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University

Trump's address shows an uneasy future for the nation's diplomacy - Washington will adopt a tougher stance on any controversial issue, which would create more enemies for itself.

On North Korea, he suggested that past US administrations got the nation into a dangerous position through complacency and concessions, which he will not repeat. During the first year of his tenure, the US has piled as much pressure as possible on China over North Korea. Yet Beijing has provided all possible assistance. If Trump keeps blaming China or asking Beijing to do more, it will eventually turn the dispute between Washington and Pyongyang into a Sino-US spat and Sino-North Korean row. Beijing will certainly not accept this scenario.

For Trump, China may have no more value in resolving the crisis. How will Trump cool down tensions depends on whether he can come up with innovative ideas.

Obviously, Trump will not negotiate with North Korea. Despite US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson once noting that Washington has direct lines of communication with Pyongyang, Trump is sending a signal - negotiations with North Korea are useless.

His policy toward Pyongyang will be tougher. Now, he said he won't compromise, but how? Can he solve the conundrum through more military exercises, sanctions and an enhanced nuclear arsenal?

In the address, Trump called China a rival that is challenging US interests, economy and values, signaling that his future policy toward China will also be tough. For the moment, an interesting phenomenon has emerged in ties between Beijing and Washington. After US describing China as a revisionist power and a competitor, Beijing still hopes to establish a new type of major power relationship with Washington. While the US wants to turn its relationship with China into a hostile one, Beijing is trying to push it toward a path of mutual benefit.

It takes two to tango. In Trump's first year in the White House, China's efforts paid off, with Sino-US ties remaining stable. Therefore, the nature of Beijing-Washington relations cannot be unilaterally determined by the US. China's capability to influence and lead bilateral relations is getting stronger. If Beijing can steer Sino-US ties in a positive direction in the next three years, the future of relations can be prospective.

Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs, Renmin University of China

Trump emphasized "fair" and "reciprocal" trade relationships in his State of the Union Address. He vowed to "fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones." The businessman-turned president governs the US like a company. He tries to showcase his alleged business skills by bidding to scrap everything unfavorable to the US and start all over again.

He has pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and advocated negotiations with some countries on bilateral framework in an effort to reach deals that are more favorable to the US. Washington is unwilling to engage in multilateral talks because it can't dominate negotiations like it can in bilateral talks.

Globalization has indeed greatly influenced the US and Americans. Trump needs to appease the groups that suffered because of global competition. He came to office by gaining support of such groups by appealing to their anti-globalization feelings. But blaming others for the US' economic woes and turning to protectionism is not conducive to the long-term development of the US. Instead, it will undermine US economic relations with other countries, including its allies.

China is considered the biggest beneficiary of globalization by the US. Trump once accused China of taking advantage of US workers and US companies with unfair trade practices. Therefore, the Trump government is planning to take aggressive trade steps, including tough restrictions against China, to combat alleged unfair trade practices. In fact, if the US can ease restrictions on its high-tech exports to China, it will effectively narrow its trade deficit with China. This is shortsighted and will inspire China to develop its own sophisticated technology.

In the address, Trump called China a rival that challenges US interests, economy and values. The US used to point fingers at China's human rights record, but now it worries that Beijing will challenge its values. This reflects its lack of confidence.

Zhao Suisheng, professor with Josef Korbel School of International Studies at University of Denver

Trump was more presidential this time than while giving his inaugural address a year ago. His first State of the Union address covered a number of topics. He emphasized that the US is a strong Union with strong people, talked about American values, economic achievements, defense, immigration policy, crime and infrastructure plan. The US economy and politics formed the main part of the speech.

Trump did not talk much about the US foreign policy, but "America First" is still the basic principle. It is worth noting that he labeled China and Russia as rivals who must be confronted with "unmatched power." So, he asked the Congress to "fully fund" the US military. This suggestion mainly targets China. Without naming China, he talked about trade imbalance and intellectual property.

From my observation through last year, Trump is a man of words than actions. Although he claimed to target China in terms of military and trade, he needs China more in addressing issues like North Korea's nuclear crisis. As China and the US are highly interdependent on trade, launching a trade war on China will benefit neither.

Trump's call for strengthening US defense is not and cannot be only targeted at China since the US has many enemies worldwide, such as the Islamic State.

In terms of domestic policy, Trump mentioned immigration and infrastructure plan, but he will face many hurdles implementing these policies. During the speech, the Republicans stood up applauding Trump several times, but Democrats seldom did. Although Trump behaved more like what a president is supposed to, he still cannot fix the differences and rifts within US society. From this perspective, Trump's first State of the Union address will not make a big difference.



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