Sino-US relations

China must prepare for the worst in dealings with US under Donald Trump, experts say

New US president expected to ‘do everything he can’ to exert pressure on Beijing, including linking trade disputes with political issues, Chinese analysts say

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 10:05am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 January, 2017, 11:30pm

Beijing should brace itself for confrontation with Washington and greater complexity in regional security after Donald Trump pledged to put “America first” during his inaugural address, Chinese and regional observers said.

Pundits were closely following Trump’s first speech as president for signs of potential conflict between China and the US, although mainland state media struck a moderate tone in its coverage, suggesting the two nations could cooperate on a wide range of areas.

In his inauguration speech on Friday, Trump took a populist and combative approach, saying one of his priorities as president was to bring jobs back to America. He said he would put the nation’s interests first in formulating his economic and foreign policies.

China preparing to hit back if Donald Trump starts trade war, says US business group

“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs,” Trump said.

A White House statement issued after the speech said the US would “crack down on those nations that violate trade agreements and harm American workers in the process” and would “use every tool at the federal government’s disposal to end these abuses”.

Although neither Trump nor the White House statement mentioned a specific nation, analysts said the remarks pointed to a possible clash with China. Trump could also try to exert pressure by linking economic issues with human rights, Taiwan and territorial disputes, they said.

“The Trump administration is not good for China. His unpredictability is his biggest weapon,” said Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military affairs commentator. “What China needs to do is to keep calm and hold on to our own position, while on the other hand demonstrating our position.”

Pang Zhongying, a US affairs expert at Renmin University of China in Beijing, said Trump appeared set to renew trade and investment deals that the US had already signed or was in the process of negotiating, but an economic clash with China was expected.

“A trade war between China and the US seems inevitable,” he said. “Trump will do everything he can to push China to give concessions,” Pang said.

Trump cards: how will next US president play his hand against China?

Liu Qing, from the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, expected Washington to increase pressure on China’s neighbours to influence the regional investment and trade environment, which would worsen instability in Asia Pacific.

In a statement posted on the White House website, Trump vowed to increase the size of the US Navy, develop advanced missile systems to protect against countries like North Korea, and enhance America’s cyberwarfare capabilities.

He said the US would reinforce old alliances and form new ones, but also warned the country had enriched other nations at its own expense.

Richard Heydarian, an international relations expert at De La Salle University in Manila, said Trump might ditch Barack Obama’s preference for consensus-building among nation states for aggressive unilateralism.

“The incoming administration brings with it greater uncertainty about the future of American power and its role as the self-described anchor of stability and prosperity in Asia,” he said.

Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the regional balance of power could be upset under Trump. If the US reduced its troop levels in Asia, Japan and South Korea might respond by beefing up their defences or pursuing a nuclear deterrent

Long before he was sworn in, Trump irked Beijing by taking a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and questioning the one-China policy. Tsai took to Twitter on Saturday to congratulate Trump on his inauguration.

Cliff Li, an adviser to the Trump campaign, said concerns over uncertainty in Sino-US ties were heightened because Trump had little political experience.

“Americans want to maximise their interests and they have found their old strategy towards China did not work well,” Li said.

But Liu said the foundation of ties was unlikely to undergo dramatic shift. Li Mingjiang, a security expert at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said Trump’s policies could mean a stronger focus on rebuilding the US economy while committing less resources to expanding its influence in Asia Pacific.