Economic Deal or Military Confrontation?
By Hichem Karoui
Trump's negative rhetoric about China, should not be considered outside of its context.
We remember that he has promised to declare China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office, to bring it to account for “stealing” technology, allowing sub-standard working conditions and loose environmental controls. Trump has also proposed providing additional arms to China’s neighbors and imposing a 45% duty on Chinese goods. But in fact, this is the way Trump starts negotiating a deal. He had also depicted Saudi Arabia and the US Gulf allies in the harshest terms, before accepting an invitation to the Summit of Riyadh in May 2017!
Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, holds a ceremony to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump at the square outside the east gate of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Thursday, November 9, 2017. [Photo: Xinhua]
The Valdai Club paper ( January 2017) noted that Trump views the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region more as a tool for exerting pressure on Beijing regarding economic policy, than as a means for ensuring stability in the region! Hence, they deduce, it is possible that, under Trump, the US position concerning the South China Sea will directly depend on the quality of trade relations.
Ostensibly, China has long enough stressed this aspect of international relations, basically founded on solid mutual interests.
The "win-win" relationship is indeed a key-concept in China‘s official discourse, and probably more so under Xi Jinping than any previous leader. If there is a moment that we may describe as propitious to better China-US understanding, it is likely now, in this era. If we need to compare the present era with that of Mao-Nixon's, we should certainly consider that today the challenges and the hurdles may even sound harder. Still, however painful the efforts needed to surmount them may appear, there is more to gain from honoring mutual commitment to peaceful cooperation, than from falling into the trap of greed, vanity and confrontation.
Mr. Donald Trump, it is understood, is accountable for his successes and failures, to the people of the United States. He has been elected to look after their interests inside and outside the country. And so does Mr. Xi Jinping. Both are able to reach an agreement about the most urgent issues. They have already paved the way to such a comprehensive "entente", in Mar-a-Lago; and they are expected to build on what they had constructed.
That is why it is important never to miss an opportunity to advance common work and action on mutual interests and concerns.
Never before had the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East regions, witnessed more accumulated dangers threatening the security and stability of millions and millions of people.
Dark and even horrific scenarios had been imagined, and conceived as probabilities, in varied think tanks, in different countries. Relying on the analysis of quantitative data and measurable variables, social scientists forewarn us against the dangers of sliding imperceptibly to confrontation before exhausting all diplomatic means.
Two thorny issues facing the US administration may result into generalized wars: the North Korean, and the Iranian/Gulf. Both are related to the problem of nuclear and missiles proliferation. China is sensitive to the outcome, because of its relations with both nations, and with the USA. It could be of good advice to Trump to hear from Xi. The Chinese president is more interested in an economic deal than in wars.
Trump has already said that China is the key to solving the North Korean nuclear issue. He surely intends to lobby Beijing into pressuring Pyongyang.
Indeed, Xi and Trump hold and defend different interests, whether in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. They are the two most influent global powers in these regions, not for their military might, but because of their economic clout.
A military "solution" for the US problem with Pyongyang or Teheran, would not be a hopeful solution, but one option by despair. Trump hopes that China could help him deal with these two issues. But is he ready to pay the price for that? For example, would he accept to engage Pyongyang and Teheran into dialogue for an economic development deal, as a substitute to their military ambitions?
(Hichem Karoui is Senior Fellow at the Center for China and Globalization.)