Post-election evolution: How the US presidential contest may influence ties with China

By Liu Caiyu Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/8 20:08:39 Last Updated: 2016/9/8 20:33:39

How the US presidential contest may influence bilateral ties

US President Barack Obama smiles after being greeted by Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) before the G20 leaders' family photo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province on Monday. Photo: AFP

The recent G20 summit in China and ASEAN meeting in Laos have focused global attention on diplomacy in the Asia Pacific, but just two months before US Election Day, uncertainty is increasing about the future world political order. 

Whoever wins the laurel, former first lady Hillary Clinton or tycoon Donald Trump, bilateral relations between the US and China will be on a bumpy road going forward, according to the forecasts from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

South China Sea tensions

As US President Barrack Obama tries to cement his muscular policy of a pivot to Asia following his final trip in the region, he reiterated in the Laotian capital of Vientiane that the Asia-Pacific is not a passing concern to the US but a fundamental national interest.

But American engagement in this region after Obama leaves from White House in November is still in doubt.

"It's difficult to see a possible future where the US has greater influence in Asia. It's a question of trying to manage its declining influence," Joseph Lake, director of Global Forecasting at the EIU told the Global Times in an interview on Wednesday.

Lake explained that "the US is on the swing. The US has for the long time been the only global superpower. China has been growing at a very rapid rate and now it is starting to assert more influence over the world. It is difficult for the US to adapt."

China is using new tools to increase its influence in the region as well, such as the One Belt and One Road initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Lake said.

But he pointed out the key focal point will be the South China Sea, and that is the area that determines how bilateral relation will change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping  met with his US counterpart in Hangzhou during the G20 summit, at which the historical Paris climate agreement was formally accepted by the two biggest economies.

Chinese analysts said this high-level meeting aimed to "lock the established friendship," but frictions between the two will not decrease because of cooperation.

A report, entitled "Election 2016: The unpopular contest" produced by the EIU predicts that under a Clinton presidency, relations will worsen over time but not deteriorate to open conflict.

"Clinton will probably prove more hawkish in her foreign policy than Obama, and has made clear her support for bolstering the US military presence in the South and East China seas," the report writes.

 She may offer more support to the Philippines, to Japan, to Vietnam in the conflict, according to the EIU.

However, the EIU predicts Clinton will serve only one term if she finally wins the election.

"We forecast that the business cycle, which has been in expansionary territory since mid-2009, will come to an end in 2019, one year before the next presidential election," the report says.

Voters tend to vote against the current president if economy is going through downturn, Lake said.

An isolationist?

The EIU says,  under a Trump presidency, the US-China "tension in economics would heat up, but politics could become less fractious."

Lake said that as Trump is an isolationist he is less likely to lead the US into wars with other countries.  "He is not the kind to get involved in the South China Sea, as Clinton is. He would not want the US to be the world's policeman."

However, a Trump presidency has been listed one of the top 10 risks facing the world by the EIU. "He has been exceptionally hostile towards free trade and has repeatedly labeled China as a 'currency manipulator.'" 

His strong rhetoric could escalate into a trade war with countries including China, and Mexico, the EIU says.

Given his tender tune on Chinese human rights and plan to reduce military support for Japan and South Korea, Trump will withdraw the US from global influence, but he will create opportunities for China, Lake said, adding that "China neither can nor will step into the US's role as the world policeman."

Lake explained that China will step into a soft parallel role through the implementation of its One Belt and One Road initiative across Asia, Africa and Europe, but not into that hard parallel power role.

Cai Tuo, director of Globalization and Global Issues Institute at the China University of Political Science and Law, noted that China still has a dual status in the world stage - an emerging power and a developing country - which results in a large-scale economy but very insufficient public facilities.

"But we can see from the G20 summit, the global governance has been raised to a very high level that it is shifted to an axis of Chinese diplomatic strategy," said Cai.

Joseph Lake, director of Global Forecasting at the Economist Intelligence Unit Photo: Liu Caiyu/GT

Newspaper headline: Post-election evolution

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