Opinion: 2019 needs level-headedness in China-U.S. talks
Updated 12:14, 29-Dec-2018
Tom Fowdy
Editor's note: Tom Fowdy is a UK-based political analyst. The article reflects the author's views, and not necessarily those of CGTN.
The year 2018 was bad for Sino-U.S. relations. The Donald Trump administration decided to pursue confrontation against Beijing in an attempt to flatten out longstanding disputes in the relationship, some of which were based on anxiety over China's growing role in global affairs.
The White House denounced China as a “strategic competitor,” opened up a full-blown trade war, encouraged an increasingly hostile domestic environment to Chinese and attempted to coerce allies against increasing ties with the country.
With little serious scrutiny, it has been a policy approach that has received praise from the U.S. media and so-called “China watcher” community, all of whom have been longing for a trigger-happy, hawkish approach to Beijing.
The effects, however, of such a strategy are starting to take their toll. U.S. exports are sinking, down a reported 4.8 percent (8.2 percent in goods). Shaken by political uncertainty, Trump's confrontational and often erratic approach to everything is now taking its toll on markets.
Once the benchmark of his “success,” stocks are on their biggest fall in 11 years and some have entered bear market territory. Investors are ultimately spooked by the lack of stability looming over the White House.
U.S. Secretary to the Treasury Steven Mnuchin wrestled to reassure businesses on Christmas Eve that the U.S. economy was in a good position, but as the president decided to wage open warfare on Twitter against the U.S. Federal Reserve, blaming them for the current situation, traders didn't buy the message and stocks tanked again.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (R) arrives at a hotel in Beijing, China, May 3, 2018. /VCG Photo

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (R) arrives at a hotel in Beijing, China, May 3, 2018. /VCG Photo

While one should not assume the U.S. economy is not going to collapse into recession; the bottom line is that the wheels now risk coming off. Ultimately, an aggressive, destabilizing and unpredictable approach to domestic governance and foreign policy undermines the conditions needed to ensure economic prosperity, those, of course, being confidence and certainty.
Although the president has been quick to take credit for America's economic recovery, the seeds of his own efforts are now coming to fruition. As the trade war starts to weigh on the U.S. growth, the very man who claimed he was fighting for American jobs, manufacturing and homegrown enterprise might now be the one to undermine them. Few seem to mention it, but the idea Trump could move past February, escalate the trade war and not pay an economic price for it, seems almost unimaginable.
Given this situation, 2019 is a year which needs to be approached with realism and practicality, and not with hysteria and crowd-pleasing chauvinism. There must be a wider acknowledgement amongst U.S. foreign policymakers that waging a full-blown tirade against Beijing is not profitable or beneficial.
In an ironic twist, despite believing he could make China's economy buckle under American pressure, the president has in fact managed to undermine his own position. Domestic woes, such as the government shutdown and the endless revolving door of resignations from the administration have only added to that. The upcoming year is desperate for some form of political assurance.
Therefore, if Trump wants to be able to restore confidence in U.S. markers, protect jobs and uphold consistent GDP growth, then never has striking a deal with China during the 90-day window of negotiations next year became more urgent.
Such a deal is not a capitulation, he would certainly be able to claim “he won,” but most importantly, it would facilitate economic breathing space and stop growing investor panic, not just in America but also around the world.
Failure to do so may be projected as tough and strong, but the economic fallout would only serve to undermine him politically. Thus, with so much in it for him in such a deal, he would be foolish to turn this opportunity down.
Soybeans are harvested in Wyanet, Illinois, U.S., September 18, 2018. /VCG Photo‍

Soybeans are harvested in Wyanet, Illinois, U.S., September 18, 2018. /VCG Photo‍

While an agreement would not end all of the U.S.-China points of contention and disagreement, as more hawkish members of his administration and the Congress will continue to advocate provocation, it would serve well to re-stabilize the bilateral relationship and set limits on how far some are aiming to go, for example, John Bolton.
For as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) crisis illustrated if Trump can be given a chance to say “he won” and appease his domestic followers, then the political space for aggressive actions can dissipate quickly and the hawks can be marginalized.
In summary, 2019 needs to be a year of reason in U.S.-China relations. It needs to be a year of less drama, more pragmatism, more agreement and less contention. Nor America, China or for that matter the world itself, can afford to be lodged in the middle of a geopolitical confrontation with two countries and be forced to choose sides. The Trump administration has some big choices to make in the coming months.
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