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China: Published in Huanqiu on 10 November 2016 Original language: Chinese // The election of Donald Trump has brought with it an unprecedented uncertainty in international relations. From East Asia to Europe, many American allies, as well as more ambivalent countries, are assessing the changes that could arise in U.S. policy. As it looks now, the worries are many and the joys are few.
China has long been a major target of Washington’s strategic planning, and may very well be one of the most affected countries in terms of its bilateral relations with America. If American foreign policy does indeed readjust as Trump enters the White House, China will certainly bear the brunt of its influence.
Before analyzing the implications of this “influence,” we must first determine: will Trump be a strong president, or a weak one?
This new American president’s temperament is unconstrained and unpredictable, and seemingly quite resolute. But the leadership ability of a president certainly depends on much more than just the personality factor. Both houses of the current Congress are in Republican hands, beneficial for Trump, but not completely so.
Trump has no footing in the American political sphere. His relations with the elite are tense, as too many are repulsed by him. He will face continual difficulties as he tries to expand his ideals of government across the American system. Even within the Republican Party, there remain those opposed to him who command significant influence. Both Hillary and Obama have expressed their congratulations to Trump, but turning the collective American elite around will be much harder than having two people make statements.
Because so many of the elite still generally despise Trump, his resoluteness will be affected; he will have no choice but to spend his energy on ameliorating relations with those who “actually” run the country. He must avoid plunging America into crisis because of his go-it-alone attitude, lest he be ridiculed by those waiting for him to fail.
The factors that weaken him and his strong personality will clash, jointly molding his style of governance.
So will America begin to strategically commit to a form of “neo-isolationism” as its guiding national route? Trump clearly has such a desire; he wishes to lessen the country’s concerns with international affairs and instead use resources to invigorate the American economy and employment rate. But because of the aforementioned constraints, he will not necessarily be able or willing to go far in implementing his ideas.
But America in the Trump era will at least cease to attempt strategic expansion, and not only because of Trump’s influence as a person. America has long grown weary as its influence props up its massive, global hegemonic power. Under Obama, America actually maintained such strategic reservation on the whole, albeit with some readjustments. Trump will make this trend even more apparent.
It’s likely that the general friction in Sino-American relations will not continue to increase; the Trump who wishes to take on the economy first cannot exert the effort to partake in a high-level strategic contest with China. This does not imply that there will not be new epicenters of such friction, however. In the short term, there exists the chance of a negative spike in overall relations.
Trump’s honeymoon period will present high risk. He could very well wish to assert authority and prove his own acumen, and seek out a Chinese “soft spot” to exploit. Beijing must seriously assess the risks of this possibility, and make preparations in case of a rainy day.
Moreover, we can see through the hollowness of Trump’s “strength.” He lacks the extensive financial support needed by an American president, and lacks the unity and loyalty of the elite who would face crises with him. In the beginning period of his presidency, he will have his hands far too full, and cannot afford to provoke a major international crisis. He especially cannot afford to risk worsening relations between the U.S. and China. A great power that is experiencing domestic discord is not one able to resolutely rouse conflict and controversy abroad.
Now is arguably the hardest time for the American president-elect to show his strength, and further, this is the time when China can most strongly face incitement from America. Therefore, if in the early Trump era we see any “sounding out” of Sino-American relations, China must not be timid, but should firmly and determinedly move to establish a mutual framework for our relationship with Washington.
America and China in the Trump era could see neither discord nor concord, but still the overall motives and mechanisms of strategic conflict will be weaker than under the Obama administration. China already has much experience in “taming” American presidents; this loud-mouthed President Trump should be no exception.
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