US President Donald Trump challenged Beijing’s “one China” policy before taking office, but shifted his attitude and said he had “great chemistry” with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after they first met at the Mar-a Lago resort in Florida in April. But the honeymoon was overshadowed four months later by White House discussions over trade measures against China. The Sino-US relationship has been witnessing ups and downs during Trump’s first half year in office.
Many factors are shaping Washington’s China policy, but it’s worth particular attention that Trump always ties his Beijing policy to the Pyongyang nuclear issue, a disappointing choice.
Frankly speaking, the North Korean nuclear issue is one of the most difficult conundrums for the international community. Trump requires Beijing to address the issue and bases the extensive, sophisticated and multi-layered Sino-US relationship on the nuclear crisis.
It seems the White House would rather jeopardize the entire Sino-US relationship if China doesn’t act as Trump wishes in thwarting North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
This is a terrible strategy. Trump’s remarks and behaviors have been constantly rocking the Beijing-Washington relationship since Pyongyang tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in July, and sadly, there is no sign that Trump will change this strategy.
Earlier, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson accused China of being North Korea’s “principal economic enabler” and it’s reported by US media that it is crafting a set of measures, including economic sanctions and restrictions, to further press China to rein in its northern neighbor’s escalating nuclear threat. This undoubtedly will put the Sino-US relationship at risk.
In addition, under “America First” slogan, Trump puts “the interests of the American people and American security above all else.” The “America First” policy will certainly affect China’s economic interests in the era of globalization. There is little likelihood that Trump’s foreign policy would shift away from this slogan. Trump had said earlier that it “will be the foundation of every decision” he would make.
In the meantime, Trump stresses “peace through strength,” compared with his predecessor Barack Obama’s “soft power” approach. There is no suspense that he will, sooner or later, take a tough stance on China, no matter in the form of an arms race or in geopolitical strategy.
Signs have already emerged. Trump reportedly has approved a plan giving the country’s navy greater freedom in operating in the South China Sea. He commissioned America’s newest and largest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, in Virginia last month. The Pentagon is sparing no effort in instigating South Korea to install the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system which will pose a serious threat to China’s strategic security. Given the above, fluctuations in the Sino-US relationship are inevitable in Trump’s era.
But Beijing has resources and leverage to handle its ties with Washington. So far, the Chinese government has been patient with Trump, and expects to reach a consensus with the US in bilateral ties. Earlier, Beijing called for building a new type of major power relations featuring win-win cooperation, but the concept was not accepted by the Obama administration. Trump is unlikely to embrace the notion either. Even if the two countries agree on the new type of major power relations, China-US strategic rivalry and economic differences remain profound.
Beijing needs to stay patient with the Trump administration, and at the same time should show its determination in safeguarding China’s interests. Trump is good at bluffing, but he is just a paper tiger. Trump backed down from his confrontational stance over Beijing, committing to the “One China” policy in front of China’s unyielding insistence. His attempts to militarily deter North Korea in fact are aimed at pressuring China to do more over the issue. If he goes too far, China should show a firm opposition and even take retaliatory measures to sober him up. We have to respond firmly, otherwise, he will be always taken as a real tiger.
Source: Global Times