As Trump Fumbles on China Policy, Here Is Some Advice

china-obama1In a time of social media frenzy and popular zeal for immediate news, many comments about President-elect Donald Trump seem to focus on his team-building and policy formulation. Important as they are, the Chinese should not dance to Mr Trump’s tune but look for proactive shaping, creative initiatives and possible alternatives. Therefore, I would like to give the following five pieces of advice to President-elect Trump for maintaining peace and prosperity of the world in general and stable, win-win China-US relations in particular.

Move with the times

First of all, President-elect Trump should move along with instead of against the trends of our times. The re-configuration of powers between the United States and the other major players is one of most significant developments today. History is a mirror that could help us to see the future more clearly. The beginning of the 21st century coincided with the presidency of George W. Bush, whose two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq greatly weakened the United States’ status as the world’s sole superpower.

Although the US’ relative decline will be long and even feature some partial resilience and reversion, historical trends cannot be turned back, whether by conventional or unconventional approaches. Moreover, the US as an established power cannot sleep on its glorious past by blaming others who are catching up and overtaking it. Indeed, President-elect Trump has to gauge his country by the hard truth of the realities. Therefore, the United States needs to follow the globalization path with forward-looking thoughts and holding the high-end of economic and scientific developments.

Understanding mandate: Be a statesman

trump-victorySecond, President-elect Trump should truly understand his mandate and know his limits. During the past election, the American voters wished that Mr Trump could lead the country out of the present debacles and difficulties. The masses demanded radical changes of the deteriorating situation through strong leadership, even it means that they have to accept an unconventional administration. However, while giving a mandate for drastic and fundamental changes, the American people are not giving the green light to rash and careless strategies and policies.

President-elect Trump should know fully his limits. As a country, the United States is generally governed by its established constitution and institutions, most of which the president cannot deny but follow. As the president, Mr. Trump has to turn himself from a businessman to a “statesman”. A businessman in New York City is very different from a statesman in Washington, DC. The businessman’s DNA alone is far from enough for a competent and successful president of the United States.

Be prudent, uphold multilateralism

china-obama-climateThird, President-elect Trump should learn to deal with intricate and complex global affairs. The devil is in the details. At the beginning of his learning curve, it would be safer for President-elect Trump to be prudent in the actual handling of foreign policies. At the least, he needs to avoid wading into the following three troubled waters. One is not to be addicted to oversimplification and emotionalization. Twitters did help him win the election, but it would not lead to successful foreign policies. Secondly, do not replace multilateralism with unilateralism. President-elect Trump threatens withdrawals from the Climate Change Paris Agreement, Iran Nuclear Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), among others. President George W. Bush paid dearly for his approaches towards the United Nations, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Three is not to equate all of his unconventional decision-making to the essential institutional revolution. It is true that the United States needs revolutions in state apparatus. However, these revolutions should be well-designed and carefully-executed.

Have coherent China policy and strategy

Fourth, President-elect Trump should have integrated thoughts on its strategy and policy towards China. The United States and China have special responsibilities of maintaining peace and development of the world. Only by putting the China-US relations in the global and regional context can President-elect Trump’s China policy be mutually beneficiary. Therefore, when formulating China strategy and directing China policy, President-elect must factor in all the possibilities at this policy-forming period. His phone talk with Ms. Tsai Ing-wen is a serious breach of the One-China Policy followed by eight consecutive US administrations since President Nixon. In the same vein, his rash comments on China have also caused grave concerns and invoked uncertainties. As a matter of fact, to make America great again start from home; focusing on outside scapegoats will lead one nowhere. Indeed, President-elect Trump is barking up the wrong tree when he attributes most of America’s economic problems to China.

Do not shun globalisation

china-obama2Last but not least, President-elect Trump should differentiate geo-strategic commitments and economic engagements. Given the fact that the United States has to adopt geo-strategic and geo-political retrenchments, President-elect Trump must realise that countering economic-globalisation is counterproductive. In terms of globalisation, most countries believe that globalisation is inevitable and they will move along with the historical trends. President-elect Trump could persuade some American enterprises to stay at home but he will not be able to tear up all market rules.

In terms of global and regional governance, the United States will lose much more by staying out than in. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is a good case in point. President Obama made a wrong decision not to join the AIIB and had to regret it later on. Even regarding China’s so-called currency manipulation, the Wall Street Journal’s comment advises him: “Donald Trump says he’ll declare soon after he takes office that China is a currency manipulator because it is devaluing the yuan against the dollar. He may want to rethink that.”

Cooperation the only choice

trump-xiAll the aforementioned advice points of mine are both well-intentioned and directed towards win-win outcomes. China believes that cooperation is the only correct choice for the China-US relations. With its usual thinking and practice, China exercises self-restraint and gives more time to President Trump to learn the importance of the China-US relations and practice accordingly. However, the internal and external developments will not wait too long. Therefore, President-elect Trump must truly realise the urgency of managing US-China relations in a constructive manner.

(Yang Jiemian is President Emeritus of Shanghai Institute for International Studies)


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