Friday, 18 November 2016

How Does China Evaluate Trump?

    With the APEC summit due to take place in Lima shortly, most leaders of states on the Asia-Pacific rim are in the process of evaluating the likely policies that President Trump may follow and how these policies might affect them. Of deep interest for them would be the assessments of PM Abe of Japan, who became the first foreign leader to meet Trump. It is possible that PM Abe might like to share his assessments with the leaders of APEC states. It is also possible that PM Abe may not do so with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, with whom Abe has had rather frosty relations.
   Nevertheless what is the Chinese evaluation of Trump and his likely policies? The Chinese never expected that Trump would win the elections and therefore are a bit perplexed as to what policies Trump may follow. They aver that he has no diplomatic or international political experience. Thus while reading the Chinese press, the first impression gathered is that the Chinese leadership is convinced that Trump will put America first, promote US interests even ahead of those of US allies in the region and promote a US based order rather than a rules based order that President Obama promoted. In a specific context, the Chinese feel that the Trans Pacific Partnership [TPP] that President Obama promoted as the apex of his pivot to Asia is probably dead, but that the US would not give up other free trade agreements. The demise of the TPP, from which China was excluded, is music to the ears of the Chinese leadership. They also feel that Trump would not promote multi-literalism, but would prefer bi- lateral deals. The Chinese leadership is not averse to striking bilateral deals with Trump. It promotes, in a sense, their own concept of new "great power" relations.
   On South East Asia, the Chinese do not anticipate any lessening of US interest, but feel that Trump would probably promote US policies on lines of what former President Reagan advocated "peace through strength". The Chinese even anticipate that Trump would not be averse to using "force" if it became necessary to protect US interests and as such US military presence may be enhanced rather than diminished. Of particular concern for the Chinese is what policies Trump may follow on North Korea. They anticipate that the US would probably enter into negotiations with the North Koreans on the nuclear issue, but if no satisfaction is received Trump may, unlike President Obama, not be so prudent and he may even risk a confrontation. The fifth nuclear test carried out by the North Koreans has set the stage for a showdown.
    It is the firm Chinese belief that "Islamic radicalization" is the main concern for Trump, for as he has been consistently maintaining, it presents the principal threat to the security of  the US. In such an event, the Chinese believe that Trump would be heavily involved with the affairs of the Middle-East and may not pursue the South China Sea[SCS] dispute as diligently as President Obama did.  They feel that here is an issue on which grounds for "cooperation" exist between China and the US. In return for Chinese assistance in beating back "Islamic radicalization" the Chinese feel that grounds for a "bargain" exist. What should that "bargain" be has not been explicitly spelt out. China could also offer assistance as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
    As Trump begins to concentrate on fulfilling some of his election promises, particularly those relating to economic rejuvenation of the US and to put America "first", it is bound to down- size its leadership positions in important area of the world. In the vacuum thus created, the Chinese leadership senses an opportunity. Take the case of Latin America. At the APEC meeting at Lima in Peru, the largest delegation is that of China and President Xi Jinping is present with a large number of trade, investment and other officials all to ready to fill the gap that the US might leave!    

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