China-US relations

Why the Trump era could mean riskier business for Beijing

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences sees the new US president as less prepared to take a step back than his predecessor

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 May, 2017, 11:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:34pm

Uncertainty will cloud Sino-US relations while Donald Trump is in the White House because the new US president is less likely than his predecessor to make concessions, a top Chinese think tank has warned.

In a report released on the weekend, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences also said Washington would pile more pressure on Beijing to tackle Pyongyang, and the United States would not retreat from the Asia-Pacific, despite Trump’s “America First” pledges.

The report examined the last months of Barack Obama’s administration and the first months of Trump’s term and concluded that Trump was “more determined than Obama to take diplomatic and military risks in key international issues”.

It also said the Korean peninsula nuclear issue “will bring huge challenges for Sino-US relations”.

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Trump campaigned on a promise to revive the US economy by putting its interests first. As part of that pledge, he threatened to label China as a currency manipulator and signalled that the US would scale down its presence in the Asia-Pacific.

In the months since Trump’s inauguration, relations between China and the US have been warmer than expected, with Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meeting in Florida and the two nations agreeing to hatch a 100-day action plan to address trade disputes.

But the think tank said the Asia-Pacific was still the key diplomatic concern for the US.

The Trump administration “may focus more on utilising the role of its Asian allies” and would seek the support of Japan and South Korea to rein in Pyongyang – meaning the US had to maintain a relationship with the Asia-Pacific, it said.

Trump has been pressing China to put more pressure on North Korea as Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests make the situation on the Korean peninsula more volatile.

“Trump may initiate direct talks with North Korea to persuade it to freeze its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, and test North Korea’s attitude towards the new US administration,” the report said. “But Trump will put more pressure on China if dialogue between North Korea and the US fails.”

Trump’s failure to form a full diplomatic team and make a full assessment of sensitive issues between the two countries also presents a risk to Sino-US relations.

Trump would need to put his Korean peninsula affairs team together with care to effectively handle Pyongyang, the report said.

Risks are also running high of a military confrontation between the two nations over the South China Sea.

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The Pentagon said on Saturday that two Chinese fighter jets made an “unsafe” interception of a US Navy surveillance aircraft over the contested waters on Wednesday. The Chinese defence ministry confirmed the intercept, but denied it was unsafe.

And the US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Dewey last week sailed within 12 nautical miles of an artificial island built up by China on Mischief Reef in the disputed Spratly Islands.

“The possibility of seeking compromise [by the Trump administration] in the case of conflict is smaller, making it more difficult to contain risk over the South China Sea,” the report said.

But the report said the two nations could push for more economic cooperation, and advance negotiations for a bilateral investment treaty.