Trump needs his best sales skills for summit with Xi Jinping
Tillerson paves way for first meeting between Xi and Trump
A year and a half ago, when Donald Trump descended from his golden escalator into the gold-leafed lobby of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for president, a reporter asked him if he was capable of dealing with China.
“Sure,” he answered, “last week I sold a $15 million condominium to someone from China.”
President Trump is going to need to marshal his best condo selling talent for his summit with China’s President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago in April.
Diplomats are still struggling to finalise the details especially as the North Korea problem is worsening. It could conflate trade discussions especially if North Korea decides to test launch more missiles during their dinner.
Almost every trade and security issue appears to yield a zero sum game outcome. The first five minutes of their face-to-face meeting will determine if any personal rapport exists between the two men. President Xi should be prepared to order Chinese take out because this summit may not last long enough to have dinner.
The risk of tariff escalation and a protracted trade conflict is high because both leaders appear to believe they hold the stronger cards in the US-China trade relationship.
Chinese statements suggest that the US needs access to China’s market in order to grow. Trump believes that China needs access to the US market more than the US needs China. Yet both sides are economically fragile.
But, a trade conflict probably already exists.
Peter Navarro, Trump’s director of the newly created National Trade Council said: “We are already in a trade war with China and the US is losing.”
US and China need to deal with North Korea without sparking off a mass conflagration. Trump has much prestige to lose at this point; every domestic policy put forward to date has teetered due to perceived weaknesses in legality, sustainability or morality. A poor summit will surely diminish the US as a superpower.
Isolation, sanctions and a total boycott appear to yield little appreciable benefits. No one wants a war on the Korean peninsula. But, a basic tenet of diplomacy is the threat of force when all else fails. To remove the threat of force handicaps diplomacy.
The likelihood of a nuclear confrontation has just gone up considerably with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s bellicose rhetoric.
While North Korea’s having ICBM’s is unfortunate – there is no scenario I am aware of where the use of nuclear weapons benefits them or their leadership.
Having nuclear weapons does however, provide domestic benefits and a sense of external security against South Korea and the US.
Therefore, forcing a confrontation will either result in the US backing down, or a reckless US President deciding to try the nuclear option and/or unsuccessfully attacking North Korea’s nuclear weapons facilities to save face. This is especially likely when, as it has been determined, economic sanctions will have little effect.
Eurasia Group, a political risk consultant, argues: “The Trump administration will aggressively accelerate the pace of anti-dumping, anti-subsidy and other unilateral actions against specific Chinese imports – but they will not adopt across-the-board tariffs in order to maintain room for a negotiated solution.”
There are incentives for restraining a trade war, but their influence will be insignificant if tensions over security issues become a top priority.
Xi needs political and economic stability to execute a leadership transition smoothly. He will be careful to avoid retaliatory measures that ensure escalation and undermine the confidence of international markets in China’s economic stability.
China and Xi can gain more positive influence in the global community by not by following the US in erecting protectionist barriers.