Mutual interests outweigh conflicts
Despite his past rhetoric over China, president-elect Donald Trump is showing signs of business pragmatism which should lift some of the gloom over Sino-US relations. The reality is that China and the US need one another’s markets
After a populist backlash in Western democracies cheered sceptics of globalisation, a Chinese entrepreneur has set the stage for President Xi Jinping to rally faith in it. Alibaba Group’s Jack Ma used an exclusive 40-minute session with US president-elect Donald Trump to sell the potential benefits to Americans of trade with Asia. The two businessmen were talking in language both understand. The discussion came a week before Xi is due to attend and officially open the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he is expected to promote globalisation in his keynote speech. It follows the year in which Britons voted to leave the European trade and immigration union and Americans voted for a candidate who peddled protectionist economic panaceas.
The creation and protection of jobs for Americans was an abiding theme of Trump’s long and sometimes xenophobic campaign for the White House. So the offer by the founder of Alibaba, the owner of this newspaper, to help US businesses sell products in Asia over his e-commerce platform, which he claimed had the potential to create up to one million American jobs, must have been music to Trump’s ears. He is faced, after all, with trying to reconcile threats of a trade war against China with honouring his campaign promise to create jobs. From Trump’s meeting with Ma, it seems he may follow a two-pronged strategy that reflects a balance between his populist and business instincts. That is to be expected. On the other hand, analysis in the Chinese media tends to put a more positive spin on what Trump referred to as a “great meeting” with a “great entrepreneur”. Further expansion of Alibaba in the US would mean it still needs Chinese investment to grow its economy.
The reality is that China and the US need one another’s markets. Their enduring mutual interests outweigh inevitable conflicts between an established and a rising power. What was a source of cheap labour less than two decades ago has, through opening up, developed a middle class of 300 million, nearly equal to the entire US population. So if Trump’s objective is to create jobs, a trade war will not help. Thankfully, despite past rhetoric, Trump is showing signs of business pragmatism, which should lift some of the gloom over Sino-US relations.
China is sending its largest-ever delegation to Davos. Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong says it is open to meeting with the president-elect’s team. This will be an important opportunity to develop a mutually respectful, pragmatic relationship that can contain differences.