Trump vs China. A break with the one China policy spanning decades. An intercontinental trade war. Even actual military action could be on the horizon following increased tensity during the first weeks of the Trump presidency.
To the disbelief of many political pundits, Donald Trump emerged victorious in the presidential elections of November last year by a comfortable lead. Riding on the wave of populism, his appeal to American working class stemmed mostly from his radical worldview and the promises to reignite the faltering economic engine.
The talk of financial reforms and recreating jobs though, did not make up the most flashing headlines worldwide – that status was hogged by a seemingly ceaseless stream of eccentric views on a number of foreign policy issues. Often expressed through twitter and in the media interviews leading up to the poll, – these statements made frequent mention of Mexico, Iran, Russia, and China.
The One China Policy
China can be said to have occupied a central place in Trump’s pre-election rhetoric. During his election campaign the president vowed to take on a harder line towards the Asian giant over, what the analysts have dubbed, a number of highly sensitive issues. Chief among them is Beijing’s assertion of its territorial sovereignty over reefs and artificially made – and now militarized – islands in South China Sea. An important Trump aide, Rex Tellirson, who was also recently confirmed as the secretary of state is reported to have suggested, in his confirmation hearing before the senate committee that US should beef up its military footprint in the volatile region to deter Beijing’s emboldened regional ambitions and even consider imposing a naval blockade surrounding the contested waters. These remarks have been a cause of growing concern not only in Beijing but also among former White House officials and diplomats who have described Trumps remarks as incoherent and worrisome and earnestly cautioned the newly elected administration from escalating tensions with China.
One China Policy – a policy principle that demands states would not dispute China’s claim over Taiwan, a small democracy in Pacific – also seems set to travel uncertain roads under Trump. Upon his election, the new president spoke with the island nation’s president over phone, which was perceived by many to be a step in the direction of ultimately breaking away from long standing US diplomatic tradition of recognizing China’s territorial unity.
That phone call, coupled with Trumps earlier statements signaling his publically declared intent to reconsider diplomatic norms as sacrosanct as ‘One-China Policy’ once he takes the helm has evoked strong diplomatic reprisal from Beijing, further straining already tense relations between the two countries.
Trump Vs China
Trade arrangements between the two countries, perceived by Trump to be sharply tilted to favor China, have also been in the crosshairs of president’s vociferous criticism. Resolute statements from the newly elected president have emerged during the run up to the election where he called for a reexamination of trade terms with China.
Beijing’s alleged devaluation of its national currency to boost its exports at the cost of US manufacturing is another subject Trump has spoken about with great deal of dissatisfaction. Trump believes Beijing is involved in crafty manipulation of its currency which has served to undermine US economic interests.
Trump vs China – is it going to unfold or fade ? With Trumps unpredictability and declared ‘US First’ policy combined with China’s growing assertiveness over its South China Sea claims, the two largest world economies seem to be moving on a path of mutual confrontation. Suffice to say, if impulsive actions come to dominate rational decision-making, the already fragile regional stability would be strained to its limits, precipitating far reaching consequences. This is something security establishments in both Washington and Beijing ought to be mindful of as they perform their strategic calculations.