Thursday, 22 December 2016

A Chinese prediction: What will Trump's China Policy Be?

       Reading the Chinese press these days the one issue that re-occurs with increasing frequency is; what would Trump's China policy be like? Most commentators profess bewilderment, partly because there is so little material, published or otherwise, to base judgment on and partly because some also subscribe to the view that Trump is both mercurial and impulsive. Therefore making a prediction becomes problematical. Nevertheless, based on what ever material is available, some Chinese commentators have been willing to stick their neck out and hazard a guess. If these views are amalgamated, the following would seem to be the current thinking on what Trump's policy towards China might eventually pan out to be. Since the Chinese press is "controlled" it would be fair to assume that it invariably reflects official thinking.
     The Chinese seem to have placed great reliance on the views expounded by Kissinger on Trump on his last visit to China, where he also met with President Xi Jinping. The Chinese have noted that Kissinger arrived in China, after he had met Trump and therefore his views on what Trump's policy is likely to be is assumed to carry Trump's imprimatur. Kissinger is reported to have told the Chinese that Trump was not an isolationist and that isolationism was not an option for US policy. Based on this assumption the Chinese are convinced that no matter how much the situation changes, the two countries need each other and therefore they do not expect "too much turbulence" in Sino-US relations.
    This assumption is further fortified by the belief that Sino-US economic relations are far too vast and varied and inter-dependent and that any unilateral action, such as trade sanctions, would lead to a trade "war" that would be totally ruinous for both countries. Sino-US bilateral trade last year touched US$ 558 billion, with direct US investment into China touching nearly US$ 70b. Similarly Chinese investment into the US has touched US$ 46b. The Chinese market is also the main source of income of several important US companies. On the other hand, if Trump does levy anti-dumping or countervailing duties on Chinese goods imported into the US, then China is prepared to go to the WTO to challenge Trump's impositions. The Chinese feel that they now have developed sufficient competence to handle such trade disputes in WTO and "win" them.
    The Chinese are convinced that Trump will not fundamentally change the US alliance system in the Asia-Pacific as that has been the fulcrum of US policy. It is far too important a strategic asset for the US. It is conceded that the US would "demand" greater coverage of "costs" of military deployment and probably both Japan and South Korea would oblige. It is also conceded that Trump, in line with his statements that he would prefer a "strong US military", may indulge in a Naval expansion that would see the US Navy expand from its present strength of 274 ships to 350 ships. This would also be in line with Trump's rhetoric that the US military should be so strong that "no one would make trouble for us". 
    The real trouble and exasperation for the Chinese is in discerning what Trump might do with regards to Taiwan. No Chinese commentator seems to be sure and apart from saying that the subject was very "sensitive"; there is no one unified view emerging. But all seem to urge Trump not to be "hasty", whatever that might mean! It is for this reason that the Chinese reaction to Trump's telephone call to the Taiwanese leader Tsai, was rather very mild and seemed to pin the blame more on the Taiwanese leader than on Trump. Chinese rhetoric on the subject, on the other hand is quite clear, that the "one China" policy must be maintained by the US. The Chinese see no allowance for any dithering on the question of Taiwan. All Chinese commentators maintain that US commitment to a "one China" policy is the bedrock of Sino-US relations and that this must not be disturbed under any circumstances.
    There is no doubt that the Chinese leadership is faced with an acute dilemma. Should they adopt a hardline policy towards Trump at the very beginning? Or should they wait to see how Trump's policies develop? The fact that the incoming Trump Administration has been filled with persons like Peter Navarro, who have written and expressed extreme hardline views on China, cannot but be a  cause for concern for the Chinese leadership. Like most countries the Chinese too wait patiently to see what happens next!

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