China-US relations

Donald Trump has ceded global leadership to China, says Nixon trip aide

US president’s trip to Beijing is a repair mission as his policies have led to Washington’s withdrawal from the international stage, says official who helped prepare for Richard Nixon’s historic trip to China

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 11:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 November, 2017, 2:27pm

A key figure in former US president Richard Nixon’s trip to Beijing in 1972 has criticised Donald Trump for ceding global leadership to China, calling Trump’s Asia tour “a repair mission”.

Winston Lord, who as a young foreign service officer travelled to China with former US national security adviser Henry Kissinger before Nixon to lay the groundwork for the historic visit, said Trump’s foreign policy had served to “make China great again”.

Lord took Trump to task at an Asia Society event in New York for “being tougher on allies than he is on dictators and sucking up to [China’s President Xi Jinping] … flip-flopping on Taiwan, accepting Chinese actions on North Korea as being more decisive than they really are.”

Lord said Trump’s “America first” policy meant leaving the field to China.

“The fact that his foreign policy is essentially military only – and with his trade disruption and total inattention to human rights and democracy promotion and soft power, and gutting the State Department – all of this weakens our posture,” said Lord, who served as US ambassador to China under former president Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and assistant secretary of state for Asian and Pacific Affairs under former president Bill Clinton, a Democrat. “I’ve never talked about presidents this way in sessions. [Trump] is unique.”

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Trump has been criticised by many in his own party, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker and Arizona Senator John McCain, for his contentious attitude towards allies in Europe and Asia.

Pressure on Trump has increased since Democrats won governorships in New Jersey and Virginia this week.

The states were previously controlled by Republican governors and US pundits suggest the results signal a broader shift in support away from Trump’s policies.

Just before Trump left for Asia last week, he put on his itinerary the East Asia Summit, an annual gathering of leaders from 18 nations in East Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia, including the US and China. The last-minute addition followed a chorus of criticism from foreign policy experts across the political spectrum that skipping the annual event created more space for China to fill in terms of leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.

“I think he’s making a mistake,” Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Centre, said at a media round table last week, referring to Trump’s earlier plan to skip the summit. “The US should be at the table to express its views and counter some of the things that the Chinese say that contravene American interests.”

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Advocating a foreign policy of strong military engagement in regions where the US faces geopolitical adversaries, the Heritage Foundation traditionally supports the foreign policies of Republicans more than Democrats.

“So far [Trump’s Asia trip] is at least temporarily correcting” some hardline stances the US president took against Japan and South Korea on trade and their share of spending on security initiatives in Asia, Lord said at the Asia Society event.

“I’m glad to see now that Trump has decided to attend the East Asia Summit at the end of the trip. It would have been a disaster if he walked away from that.”