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China-U.S. Relations In The Trump Era

Through a series of unwise if not reckless moves, Donald Trump has already harmed the world's most significant bilateral relationship and, by doing so, is taking our global village on a dangerous path since there can't be global prosperity and peace without strong China-U.S. synergies.
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Through a series of unwise if not reckless moves, Donald Trump has already harmed the world's most significant bilateral relationship and, by doing so, is taking our global village on a dangerous path since there can't be global prosperity and peace without strong China-U.S. synergies.

Some analysts - many of them Chinese observers - wrongly believed that Trump's anti-Chinese rhetoric during the campaign would gradually disappear in the event of a Republican victory. Unfortunately, they misread the intentions of a man obsessed by hard power, who seems to be exclusively concerned with American leadership and who has no real understanding of the Chinese world and certainly no appreciation for the richness of its civilization.

Since his election on November 8, Donald Trump is creating an environment in which mistrust between China and the U.S. is growing and it looks like the era dominated by the Kissingerian approach toward China could come to an end. In a sense, without understanding of history, without attention to cultural sensitivities, without real interest for the nuances of diplomacy, Trump is the anti-Kissinger.

The meeting the President-elect had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on November 17 in New-York's Trump Tower was not a necessity but it was an occasion to send an unambiguous message: in the Far East, Japan is the U.S.' strategic ally.

With the promise of SoftBank's Masayoshi Son to invest $50 billion in the U.S., Washington and Tokyo have been moving fast to stress the solidity of their alliance.

The December 2 phone conversation with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen - first contact of this kind between the U.S. and China since 1979 - signaled that Trump intends to take the U.S.-Taiwan relations at another level. This is not only a "pivot" but this is an obvious provocation which indicates that Washington will sell more weapons to Taiwan and, by doing so, will be willing to risk having serious tensions with Beijing.

Trump appears to be especially receptive to the lobbying of the U.S. defense industry. One would hope he remembers Dwight D. Eisenhower's famous warning on the "industrial-military complex". In 1961, Eisenhower, one of the greatest American Presidents, wisely affirmed: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Trump surrounded himself with advisors explicitly calling for tougher actions against the PRC, Michael Pillsbury, Peter Navarro or Randy Forbes, but the choice of retired lieutenant general Michael Flynn as National Security Advisor is especially worrisome. In his book "The Field of Fight", Flynn, who served also as the director of defense intelligence agency, put China in the group of America's enemies.

Will Donald Trump modify this confrontational trajectory? Complex realities - North Korea, fight against terrorism, nuclear proliferation, long-term economic and financial issues - might force him to "deal" with China in a less antagonistic manner but a genuine change of perspective would presuppose the realization that, in an increasingly interdependent world, what has really to come first are not the immediate interests of one single country but the long-term equilibrium of the entire system. Nationalism and economic protectionism (the TPP might be dead but trade has to be stimulated) can't be the solutions of our time's interconnected problems.

Moreover, in a century marked by complex and unprecedented interconnectedness, one can't expect to unilaterally win at the expense of the world's most populous country and, soon, of what will be the world's largest economy.

True world's Statesmen should be on a quest to find ways to create more global value - tangible and intangible - in an inclusive process which ought to be beneficial for all of us.

A series of tweets will never make the wise diplomacy of a truly great nation, a constructive foreign policy can't be the addition of opportunistic moves inspired or imposed by adventurous military people but it should be a long-term strategy carefully designed by thinkers and discerning diplomats.

Confronted with Washington's provocation, Beijing needs to adopt a posture characterized by strategic patience and to reaffirm her responsible and proactive internationalism through new initiatives for trade, the fight against climate change, a renewed support for the United Nations and the acceleration of the "One Belt, One Road" transnational development project.

President Xi Jinping's key messages at the Peru's APEC meeting will have to be reaffirmed across the continents: China's reemergence is peaceful and its opening up to the world is a global opportunity.
Should Donald Trump gradually develop a form of neo-Caesarism in a combination of nationalistic populism and militarism, China, Europe and others but also the vast majority of the American people would certainly find the ways to oppose and stop what would be for our world a highly dangerous development.

What makes America really great is that the country will vote again in 2020.

David Gosset is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), Shanghai, Beijing & Accra, and founder of the Europe-China Forum.

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