Trump's 4-year effort to contain China was unwise, unrealistic: Global Times editorial
Published: Jan 20, 2021 10:16 PM

Illustration:Liu Rui/GT

The US presidential transition on Wednesday was not harmonious, with President Donald Trump refusing to participate in Joe Biden's inauguration. Trump gave his farewell address on Tuesday, boasting his achievements in the past four years. "We revitalized our alliances and rallied the nations of the world to stand up to China like never before," he said in the address, which has generally become a laughingstock of media. 

There are probably three things that the world will remember about Trump's presidency. First, his team reversed the US' China policies and brought major power confrontation back to the world. Second, his administration has barely done anything in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic - over 400,000 Americans have died of coronavirus as he stepped down. Third, he has shaken the foundation of the US political system by striking a blow to the power transition of the American democracy.

The latter two things have reflected the US' systemic decline and chaos, proving that the US is no longer the US at its peak. Trump's wild and arrogant attempts to comprehensively contain China came against such a backdrop. The Trump administration has reshaped US society's perception and attitude toward China, creating space for radically brutal anti-China policies. Still, overall it was a total failure. This is evident that Trump was voted out when his administration was smoothly pushing forward its anti-China strategies. 

It is easy to chant anti-China slogans and craft some sanctions against China. Even if it wouldn't win much applause, it is politically correct in the US. 

However, China has become the locomotive of world development. If the US blatantly turns strategic cooperation with China into strategic confrontation, the massive opportunities it loses and the trouble it brings to itself will eventually become the losses of American families through various channels, which will consequently erode the Americans' trust in its government. The election support that Trump needed most was taken away in the end.

Provoking confrontation can easily win public praise, but what humanity wants the most is a peaceful life. A hegemony-seeking country can always boost unity at the superficial level, but in reality people live their own lives. The Cold War mentality in the Trump team was too excessive, while the US system is incapable of dealing with it, which resulted in its governance becoming more and more extreme in China-related affairs. When other issues came up such as the COVID-19 epidemic, the Trump team could not handle it but only resorted to hysterically confronting China to secure its leadership.

Tough China policies did not bring any real benefits to the US. The US-launched trade war failed to narrow the US trade deficit with China and bring jobs back to the US. Technological decoupling created some temporary difficulties for a few Chinese companies, but American companies suffered losses as well. US sanctions did not prevent the overall progress of China's technological strength. The US wooed its allies to counter China, but only made superficial progress. China's cooperation with the outside world is expanding.

The biggest failure of Trump's China policy is that it misjudged the times and true public opinion, and overestimated the US ability to contain China. The US is still more powerful than China, but its ability is by no means enough to weaken China. The incompatibility of its strength and will leads its China strategy to become a serious geopolitical defective project.

During the confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden's aides said some tough words against China which are politically correct in the US. But this team is taking over a shambles, and the strengths and resources that support their tough China policy are fewer than during the Trump era. If they want to accomplish something in the next four years, easing relations with China is their only option. 

During Trump's tenure, China's GDP has increased from being 59 percent that of the US to today's over 70 percent. The Trump administration would rather crack down on China in a way in which the US hurt itself. However, its goal to weaken China has finally gone in vain. There is strategic competition between China and the US. And Trump has spent four years proving that containing China is not a wise or realistic choice for the US. 

It is hoped that the Biden administration has the courage to cooperate with China to not only address issues including the pandemic, climate change, and economy, but also jointly find the answer to the largest proposition of the times - management of serious differences between major powers, and realizing benign competition as well as win-win results.