WHILE the world expected that the US-China relations would be more contentious under the new US administration, it has taken an entirely new direction, which was less talked and thought about. Analysts, scholars and strategists spoke of an irresolute yet confrontational relation between the US and China, seeing the posture President Trump adopted and statements he made. However, the recent and much discussed Trump-Xi meeting at the Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, Florida have presented strategic, political and intellectual spheres with a new situation to read about between the lines or see through the concrete.
Trump-Xi Summit is seen as a story of an unexpected turnaround in the US-China relations from a head-on collision into a grand bargain with a special twist. President Xi is seen as very much product of a developed political system. Being a politician, President Xi has made his way through the ranks, working methodically over the period of 40 years. However, President Trump is very considered as a ‘political insurgent’ who had been flipping sides in the past and one who enjoys favoring the odds, challenging the conventional. But as we see two largest economies and militaries connecting, it is hinted that Mr Xi would tread carefully as he aims to define a new and expansive foreign policy for China that includes relations with US as well.
However, President Trump days before Summit, tweeted that the meeting with President Xi would be ‘difficult’ and further mentioned ‘massive trade deficits.’ And there we see the political curve turning inside out. Seeing the flamboyance associated with President Trump, it is still a credit to both leaders who had a friendly meeting in a cordial environment, successful enough in reaching verbal agreements and avoiding political gaffes. Later on, the briefing reported that personal chemistry created between the two presidents and among their senior officials was positive and that it can contribute to good relations going forward thereby, considered as a reasonable set of accomplishments. The briefing has also identified first steps taken in Trump-Xi Summit in four substantive areas including President Trump’s commitment to visit China this year; the restructuring of the senior-level dialogues; the declaration of a 100-day process for addressing economic frictions; and an agreement to coordinate actions on North Korea. With reference to this meeting, it would be early to visualize the outcome but each side would certainly like to address their major interests. Being presidential candidate, President Trump has always accused China of massive trade deficits and job losses.
Similarly, through this Summit, the US has been able to nullify the signal of the ‘cornering of China’ which the previous government sent out. Besides, China’s geoeconomic policies are also seen in symmetry to what has been elaborated as gesture of inclusiveness by the US in this Summit. The previous US administration’s ideals of Trans-Pacific Partnerships and trade initiative, followed by escalations in South China Sea, clearly insinuated the Chinese isolation, where the administration even embraced old foes as friends. Another perspective suggests that where the US wants to reduce the out-sized US-China bilateral trade deficit in order to ‘make America Great again’, China would like an administration in the US that could validate its new global initiatives such as the most important OBOR and structures such as WTO-based market economy status and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. And this Summit is viewed as a beginning.
Certainly, the first diplomatic interaction between two major powers is going to be one determining and important factor for Asian geopolitics in the near future. For the US, the prospects for cooperation are encouraging as China is good in engaging countries economically but for China; this is one opportunity to raise high as a responsible global power. But with great power, comes great responsibility, for which China has to keep in sight the regional concerns of security vis-à-vis it’s now becoming expansive foreign policy while cutting any deal through. And for the world, it is to see that whether President Trump gives up the Nixonian tradition of ‘strategic unpredictability’ or continues on the same way.
Article originally published in Pakistan Observer on April 26, 2017.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.