Trump can get China relationship rolling with these 'quick wins'
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While Donald Trump’s young presidency has had a flurry of activity relating to foreign relations, noticeably absent has been substantive outreach to China. One reason for this delay was Mr. Trump’s questioning of the One China policy, a matter that required resolution before Beijing was to move forward on any issue involving Washington.

This issue was sorted out during Mr. Trump’s Feb. 9 phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping in which Trump rightly agreed that the U.S. would honor the policy, which dictates the U.S. has formal ties with China but not with Taiwan.

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Other reasons for the delay involve the priority the White House placed in shoring up relationships with allies (the U.K., Japan, South Korea and Israel) and pressing domestic and political matters — immigration, Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, healthcare, tax reform and controversies involving the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, intelligence leaks and relations with Moscow, among other issues. 

 

Yet, unmistakably, the distrust that President TrumpDonald John TrumpAmash responds to 'Send her back' chants at Trump rally: 'This is how history's worst episodes begin' McConnell: Trump 'on to something' with attacks on Dem congresswomen Trump blasts 'corrupt' Puerto Rico's leaders amid political crisis MORE’s team harbors toward Beijing relating to security and trade matters cloud the uninitiated relationship between the new U.S. administration and China, contributing to the hold-up in both countries moving forward. 

At present, there are disagreements between Washington and Beijing involving assertions of sovereignty in the South China Sea, as well as tensions involving trade, commercial relations, cyber warfare and the recent installation of the U.S. Army’s anti-ballistic missile system in South Korea.  

Adding to the tensions, Trump, during the presidential campaign, accused Beijing of inventing global warming as a hoax and of being a currency manipulator. China, for its part, has criticized American interference in other countries’ internal affairs and has denounced the U.S. for militarizing the South China Sea, which it sees as an impediment to its own rise to power. 

As it begins its second month in office, the Trump administration would benefit from pursuing the following quick wins in its relations with Beijing for purposes of building the trust necessary to work on the major issues of contention affecting both countries: 

S&ED: A good first move would be for the Trump administration to continue the yearly U.S.–China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) started by the George W. Bush administration and built upon by the Obama administration.

This annual summit discusses a wide range of strategic and economic issues facing both countries — defense, trade, climate change, energy, fiscal policy, counter-terrorism, nonproliferation and regional geopolitical challenges.

Forging ahead with this yearly opportunity for high-level meetings will send a reassuring signal to Beijing that Trump, contrary to common assumptions, is earnest about the U.S. and China continuing discussions on key areas of interest.  

State Visits: State visits by Xi to Washington and Trump to Beijing will go beyond the normal symbolism and pageantry of these events and help demonstrate that Washington and Beijing, despite their very real differences and mounting strains, are committed to working together.

In some instances, the personal rapport built between leaders during state visits goes beyond the normal fashion and plants the seeds of working relationships that allow for progress or, at the very least, a de-escalation of tensions. 

North Korea: North Korea’s advance toward weaponizing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead demonstrates the urgent need for Washington and Beijing to work together toward a resolution. Working together to realize a diplomatic breakthrough would be ideal.

On the other hand, if the menace of Pyongyang needs to be resolved by force of arms, Washington and Beijing must work with Seoul to arrive at agreed parameters for military operations, as well as the necessary procedures following a collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime.

The various post-regime considerations include joint efforts toward securing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons stockpiles, restoring order, liberating gulags, staving off famine and providing shelter and medical care to refugees. 

While these discussions will not lend themselves to a quick resolution of the North Korean crisis, Washington and Beijing would be well-served to begin the process sooner, rather than later. 

Shifting Mindsets: Without question, relations between the U.S. and China are worryingly strained. Miscalculations by either country can take disputes to a new level or, at worst, result in hostilities. To defuse tensions, a shift in mindsets is in order. 

Efforts should be made to negotiate trade and currency disputes to mutually beneficial outcomes. President Trump’s often self-touted negotiating skills ought to come in handy here, presumably. Other challenges reflecting the different values of both regimes, such as human rights, might be irreconcilable and, therefore, changes will only occur if the nature or principles of either government changes. 

Yet the other seemingly intractable disagreements — maritime sovereignty claims and militarization activities in the South China Sea, geopolitical feuds, etc., — may require an agreement to disagree temporarily, while maintaining open lines of communication to arrive at an eventual common understanding in the future. 

This we know — China is not going anywhere; nor is the United States. Both countries have the means to avoid the feared “Thucydides Trap” scenario of war resulting from a rising power causing fear in an established power.

The question is whether or not Washington and Beijing have the will to arrive at an accommodation; an accommodation resulting in some form of coexistence in the Pacific region. Changes of leadership afford new opportunities. The new Trump administration and President Xi have an opportunity to set U.S.-China relations on a constructive foundation with a few quick wins. 

 

Ted Gover, Ph.D., is instructor of political science at Central Texas College, U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton​, California​.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.