Will Sino-US cooperation boost Donald Trump’s chance to win re-election?

By Sun Lipeng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/3/6 19:53:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

US President Donald Trump recently hired Brad Parscale, the digital media director of his 2016 campaign, to work for his 2020 re-election bid. Although the campaign is still some time away, Trump has started accumulating political resources and expanding his voter base.

Having won the presidency with his "Make America Great Again" slogan and white working-class supporters, Trump will again make it a priority to obtain support of the working class and further strengthen his tough stance on foreign policy to showcase his "America First" doctrine. Under the circumstances, the Sino-US relations will see increasing complexity and challenges, but won't veer off track.

In the past few months, US reports including the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review, showed deep adjustments in the country's foreign policy. These documents put major power competition as the US' primary threat and defined China as a rival, which undermines the foundation of the trust between the two countries.

Since taking office, Trump has used trade and North Korea issues as instruments to confront China. During his re-election campaign, he will likely get tougher on China and continue making noises over the two issues to appeal his voters.

While the US government, Congress, political parties and the strategic sphere have differed considerably on domestic affairs, they share some consensus on being tough with China on trade. In particular, when Trump faces a low approval rating of 41.2 percent, imminent midterm election and the 2020 re-election campaign, he will certainly propagate more protectionism.

First, Trump will toughen up his protectionist approach in addition to promoting anti-dumping and countervailing duties. He has threatened a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum, making China a major target. The US has also used the so-called Section 301 probe of China's intellectual property practices as a main instrument to pressure the latter in negotiations. The investigation may become the biggest destabilizing factor.

Moreover, the US will deliberately put obstacles in Beijing's way over China's market economy status and overcapacity. This will undermine bilateral trust.

Over the past year, Washington has, on the one hand, said that it welcomes dialogue with Pyongyang as long as North Korea promises denuclearization on the peninsula. On the other hand, it is piling extreme pressure on North Korea. In the near future, Trump may increase the pressure on North Korea and require China to do more to address the nuclear issue. But if the US demands more than what China can take, there is a possibility that ties will suffer. This can become more complicated as Trump always tries to combine Sino-US cooperation on nuclear issue with trade.

Sino-US relations are marked by both competition and cooperation, and will remain generally stable during Trump's re-election campaign.

The head-of-state diplomacy can be the biggest stabilizer. Since Trump met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago estate in April 2017, the two leaders have built a good personal relationship. This has a positive effect on bilateral ties and will continue to play a critical role in the future.

The four high-level dialogue mechanisms established between the two countries still have an irreplaceable role to play and will be advanced in 2018 to ensure bilateral ties stay on track. After all, to sit down and figure out solutions is more beneficial for Trump's re-election bid.

In the meantime, China and the US have huge potential in working together to address the trade disputes and nuclear issue. As China grows stronger economically, it becomes more capable of shaping its ties with the US. With enormous potential in fields like agriculture, energy, infrastructure and financial service, Chinese market will provide crucial opportunities for the US to achieve dynamic economic growth. Although Beijing and Washington diverge on North Korea, they share the goal of denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, making it possible for more cooperation in this respect.

Trump will face a bumpy road ahead in seeking re-election victory. This will add more competing factors to Sino-US relations.

The author is an assistant research fellow with Institute of American Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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