Does Trump deserve a high grade on U.S. policy on China?
Updated 09:29, 20-Apr-2019
Xu Sicong

Editor's note: Xu Sicong is an opinion editor at CGTN. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump took office, a swarm of American politicians and scholars have railed against elements of his foreign policy that represent a clear break with classic diplomacy, such as reckless remarks that have alienated U.S. allies, unilateral sanctions on foreign countries as well as impulsive withdrawals from international organizations.

The administration's dealing with China, which breaks away from the U.S. tradition of "constructive engagement," has also been under scrutiny, as Trump's hawkish stance has so far triggered a trade war that has rattled global markets and sharply intensified rivalry between the two countries.

Nevertheless, some have a different verdict on the matter. Earlier this week, the U.S. think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), published a new special report in which the council's senior fellow, former U.S. diplomat Robert D. Blackwill, contends, "Trump's foreign policies are better than they seem." And that conclusion applies to the administration's engagement with China as well, as he argues that Trump "deserves a high grade for his policies on China."

How so? In Blackwill's words, China has been guilty of numerable wrongdoings, ranging from attempting to "undermine U.S.-Asian alliances," coercing neighbors and others by using geo-economic tools, violating "international commercial practices" to pursuing aggressive military policies, and so on and so forth. He then asserted, misreading or ignoring China's "strategic intentions," the previous administrations "failed to contest Beijing's aggressive policies," and caused the U.S. to be rather reactive when dealing with China today.

The prevalent U.S. perception of China is on full display in Blackwill's report where it is assumed that with China's meteoric rise, the inevitable path for the country is to pursue aggressive foreign policies that would threaten U.S. global leadership and dismantle the international order. Blackwill quoted former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as saying China would naturally "want to be number one in Asia and in time the world."

However, this could not be further from the truth. In China's official and public discourse, the mainstream is never the assertion that China strives to dominate the world. The American political scientist Graham T. Allison also argued that what drives China's growth is an aspiration for increasing economic power and a better life for its people, rather than replacing the U.S. as the predominant global leader.

There is no denying that with China's ascent, the country has become increasingly vocal and proactive on a range of issues of which the BRI and diplomatic language such as Community of Shared Future for Mankind serve as good evidence. However, that by no means amounts to saying that China is seeking dominance or aspires to reshuffle the cards in the international sphere.

Although the underlying tensions between China and the U.S. do point to the fact that the two countries are at odds over their visions of the global order, China does not completely reject the current one. As a matter of fact, as the country engages more closely with the world, it is also adapting itself to the global norms, of which, the recent economic liberation policies is a clear indication.

U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a meeting with China's Vice Premier Liu He (L) in the Oval Office of the White House, February 22, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a meeting with China's Vice Premier Liu He (L) in the Oval Office of the White House, February 22, 2019. /VCG Photo‍

In reality, what the country is seeking is simply healthy economic growth and fairer international rules that would also reflect its own interests, a position which is hardly unique to China as similar thinking can be found in other developing countries as well.

This would, of course, have sounded an alarm for the U.S. which is paranoid about being dethroned as the most powerful nation. Americans have a good reason to worry about such a scenario though. 

Diminishing world power means reduced ability to shape the global agenda and norms. As the current international order is largely shaped by the Western powers after WWII with the U.S. playing a preponderant role, rule changes would see the U.S. lose its advantage. 

It is for this reason, for example, that Trump has repeatedly said that the country must win the global race over 5G technologies.

Such a mentality is evident throughout Blackwill's report and has contributed to the growing suspicion towards China. 

As Yuan Peng, president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, pointed out, the U.S. fear of being replaced as the biggest power has sparked a range of China-threat theories which assumed the ill will behind China's Confucius Institute, its activity in the South China Sea as well as the Belt and Road Initiative, etc.

However, whether the U.S. has the ability to prevent this scenario from happening would be another matter. 

The world is hardly a place that stands still. The rise of developing countries including China represents the inevitable. What this has brought is a plethora of voices from these countries demanding fairer international rules that would respect their values and benefit their growth. Such an aspiration, nevertheless, is misrepresented as malicious attempts to overturn the current global order and deliberately hurt U.S interests.

The position people like Blackwill find the U.S. is in as opposed to China is not a result of numerous policy missteps by previous administrations but rather something inevitable. When Blackwill said Trump is taking the right approach towards China, he failed to realize the U.S. is simply facing an uphill battle to hold on to its world superpower status. 

Only time will tell if such efforts will work eventually.

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