Chinese scholars look to a Trump administration with hope and concern
President-elect’s pledges but lack of policy during campaign keep experts guessing
The surprising victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election has left many Chinese experts guessing what will come next for China, Taiwan and Sino-US ties under a Trump administration.
Following are some of their hopes and concerns:
Zhang Zhexin, US affairs expert, Shanghai Institute for International Studies
Three themes deserve attention: security, economy and talent competition.
In terms of security, the first half of 2017 might be a “dangerous period” for Sino-US ties. President-elect Trump is expected to play tough in the Asia Pacific region in the first half of 2017 to portray a powerful presidential image – for instance, the United States may have more frequent military exercises in the South China Sea or the East China Sea. China, of course, will respond firmly. Since the communication channels between Beijing and Trump’s team are not smooth, China will choose to play hardball as well. As a result, the probability of a military collision will increase. It will take some time to go through this dangerous period before China can develop a sort of strategic mutual trust with the new US president.
With the economy, China will definitely face more pressure from the US. However, Trump is a man who doesn’t follow norms, and he cares about losses and gains. So, while China will face more pressure, the country will see new opportunities as well. First of all, China can link economic issues with security ones in talking to the US, and secondly,if the US is not committed to regional trade deals, China will find a new chance to push forward its own trade deals, bilateral agreements as well as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ strategy. The US’ economic leadership in the world would be questioned, offering additional room for China to deepen its economic ties with Asia-Pacific countries.
Regarding talent competition, Trump will restrict immigration. If he does only half of what he has promised to do in terms of migration control, the US will become less open and inclusive. At the same time, China should open its arms to welcome talent. It’s a very good chance for China’s opening up and reform.
Lian Degui, international relations expert, Shanghai International Studies University
It’s hard to predict how Trump’s win will affect the Sino-US relationship, because nobody knows what Trump’s China policy is. He will be an inwardly looking US president and mainly focus on the domestic economy. He said he will label China a currency manipulator, but will he really do that? I doubt it.
He is a layman in diplomacy, but he will have his own advisers. But we still don’t know who they are, so it’s hard to judge. If he determined to act on his own and neglect all advice, the US rebalancing strategy would change; but it’s very likely that Trump would just ditch the “Asia Pivot” name. The US will not stop countering China in world affairs.
There will be small tweaks to foreign policy under a Trump administration. For instance, he may ask Japan and South Korea to pay more for security.
As to the South China Sea, I think the US has lost its biggest ally, the Philippines, which means the US can hardly make trouble at least for now. A President Trump would presumably not be interested in engaging the South China Sea issue more deeply than Obama, because such acts demand extra money that an isolationist US government might not willing to spend.
Liu Weidong, US affairs expert, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Trump is better at campaign rhetoric than Hillary Clinton. But to what extent he will fulfil his campaign promises, nobody knows for sure. I think he will be tough on trade when dealing with China.
It’s possible for him to label China a currency manipulator the first day he is in office. But it’s unlikely that he would impose 45 per cent punitive tariffs on Chinese exports to the US. If he really did that, it would be a catastrophe for China.
His business nature tells us he will not allow any country to take advantage of the US. In the security sphere, this means the US will not shoulder as many responsibilities as before, and Japan and South Korea may need to meet their own security needs.
Trump mentioned China more than Clinton, reflecting that a President Trump would pay more attention to China than a President Clinton. Trump even said he’d like to cooperate with China, an attitude Clinton never expressed. So this brings opportunities to China.
I think Trump will be more interested in economy and trade than security. Once, responding to a Washington Post question on the Diaoyu Island issue, he said he did not like to tell others what he wanted to do, which in my eyes equals to he would not want to intervene in the issue.
As to the TPP, Trump’s stance is clear – US losses outweigh benefits in the TPP. But even if Trump kills the TPP … it doesn’t mean the US will pull out from Asia. The US is giving up a particular trade arrangement, but it will not give up its economic interests in Asia.
Chang Ya-Chung, political scientist, National Taiwan University
Trump can’t break the current US-China-Taiwan relationship, and the triangle status quo will remain. From his personality traits, he will focus more on mainland China than Taiwan, and will probably let Taiwan take more security responsibilities. He may be more active in selling weapons to Taiwan. I can’t guarantee it will be an increase because arms sales will be enormously uncertain. Each decision will depend on the then situation of Taiwan and Sino-US relations.
The One China Policy held by the US will not change under Trump, which means the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party(DPP) has less room to manoeuvre, because the DPP only dare to go against Beijing when relations between Taiwan and the US are secure, warm and stable.