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Turning Challenge into Opportunity
If Trump follows a pragmatic approach, the United States can build up a beneficial partnership with China
By Shen Dingli | NO. 46 NOVEMBER 17, 2016

 

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump delivers a speech in New York City on November 9 (XINHUA)

Though Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was supported by most of the elite and predicted by most opinion polls to set an unprecedented record as the United States' first female president, she has lost her second, and probably last, presidential campaign. Instead, Republican Donald Trump has won the election. After winning most battlefield states and even some traditionally Democrat-dominated ones, Trump, who has never had any public service experience, has been elected as the United States' 45th president.

The power of U.S. populism cannot be underestimated. When Barack Obama was elected eight years ago, his campaign's magic word was "change." Due to massive public dissatisfaction with the Iraq War and financial crisis, Obama was elected despite his short service as a senator—less than one term. This time, Trump has secured his presidency due to public anxiety about American economic decline and insecurity.

Cause and effect

Americans are deeply divided. Despite Trump's lack of experience in public service and his often loose, and even erroneous, remarks, he has been favored by the Electoral College system. If Trump means great uncertainty ahead, Clinton would have indicated certainty to a large extent, and even continuity. However, given the trend of low or declining middle-class incomes for a decade, the rise of the traditional minorities who are now leaving fewer high-income jobs for white Americans who have dominated the United States for ages, given the relative U.S. decline on the international stage, and given the increasingly insecure domestic environment, the incumbent party paid the price.

Trump's success illustrates the strong public desire for another change, to bring jobs back home, and to make America great again. Is he the right man to lead this movement? His speech in Gettysburg shortly before the November 8 election day gave some clues. His promises to bring 25 million jobs back home, to cut tax for the middle class, and to limit the terms of Congress members—not allowing them to lobby immediately after stepping down—showed his constituents he was dedicated to reform and brought him more votes.

Therefore, Trump was elected for a reason. By comparison, Clinton was weighed down persistently by her reputation as a traditional politician. Eight years ago, Obama, while calling for change, was credible as he was a Washington outsider. Even then his opponent Clinton's status as former first lady and New York senator didn't seem to be an asset for her. This time, the WikiLeaks disclosure of the hacked emails showed her to have one set of standards for multinationals and big banks like Goldman Sachs, off the record, and another for the public, which further weakened her ability to rally enough votes.

Now that the election is over and Trump has been chosen as the next U.S. commander-in-chief, ending a yearlong, highly polarized political process, he has to understand that actually, he too divided the United States and therefore has not been that popular. Though he won the Electoral College vote, he lost the popular vote. Therefore, being part of an unprecedented process which has deeply divided the United States, he bears an unshirkable responsibility to heal the wound and effect bipartisanship.

ZTO Express, a Shanghai-based courier company, makes its debut at the New York Stock Exchange on October 27

China-U.S. relations

How will the China-U.S. relationship develop under Trump's tenure? Some are apprehensive of his campaign pledge to impose punitive tariffs as high as 45 percent on Chinese goods for "stealing" American jobs. If the Trump administration tries to truly implement the threat, a trade war will erupt between the two countries.

However, one must look at Trump's business acumen first. As a successful businessman, he has worked with Chinese companies for over three decades, regardless of differences in political opinions. As the next president, he has to lead the United States to successful business, for which he has to be pragmatic. Indeed there are differences regarding manufacturing modalities and trade patterns; however, it is unrealistic and impractical to impose one's own business values upon others without expecting a backlash. President-elect Trump should be mindful that though some of his campaign rhetoric has led him to the White House, it would ruin his presidency if put into practice, especially given China's rapid rise.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) arbitration mechanism already exists to reconcile trade disputes among member states. By joining the WTO, members yield some economic sovereignty for returns from other states. Since joining the WTO in 2001, China has been going through the institution to balance its trade relations with others. Beijing's trade partners, including the United States, have also often resorted to this system for third-party arbitration and accepted its rulings. There is no reason for the Trump administration to bypass such an established and convenient tool.

Of the issues that the White House traditionally focuses on, the three key ones are human rights, trade and security. Again, as a successful businessman, Trump is likely to be practical in his dealings with those issues, while also respecting American values. As China also downplays ideological divergences when maintaining external relationships, the two countries should be able to reconcile their differences better in these regards under the Trump administration.

Turning to regional security, China is only interested in defending its own legitimate sovereign rights in the Asia-Pacific region, not in challenging the American presence there. China has neither aspired to challenge the status quo of the occupation of the islands/islets in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, nor attempted to impede any U.S. "freedom of navigation" in the region. China has also persistently proposed resolving territorial and maritime disputes through peaceful means. Therefore, the Trump administration will not have much chance to be bothered by such disputes.

On the other hand, Trump has pressed Japan and South Korea to share more of the cost of deploying American soldiers in these countries and said he would recall some of the troops should the two countries reject, despite the possibility of them developing nuclear weapons. Such inward vision, if not isolationist, sounds alarming.

The U.S. presence in the region has been historical. Seeking to maintain Pax Americana in East Asia, Washington has long played a unique role in containing Japanese imperialism and preventing Japan and South Korea from developing nuclear weapons. This has helped stabilize the region. To be a credible global leader, Trump has to overcome his strategic shortsightedness by continuing to provide public goods in the Asia-Pacific arena without seeking hegemony.

In summary, Trump's election presents both opportunity and challenge. As long as he adheres to a pragmatic approach, his administration can build up a collaborative and mutually beneficial partnership with China and others. His lack of experience and over-confidence, nevertheless, could frustrate him and create uncertainty for the world. It is time for Americans to unite again, monitor his acts and direct him to follow the call of the majority, not merely his own voters. Everyone needs to work together to turn the challenge into opportunity. If handled the right way, Sino-U.S. relations can write a new chapter.

The author is associate dean at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to liuyunyun@bjreview.com

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