By Zhao Minghao
With Donald Trump officially taking office as the 45th US president, the discussion on the future of Sino-US relations has intensified. Amid myriad uncertainties, one certain thing is that in the coming months, the bilateral relations will be bumpy, which might have lasting effects beyond the scope of bilateral relations. Although Trump perceives maintaining “unpredictability” a trump card against China, Beijing and Washington need to find ways to reduce the unpredictability of the Sino-US relations as soon as possible.
In his inaugural speech, Trump again emphasized his “America First” policy. In the 2016 US presidential election, more than 50 percent of Americans did not vote for him. Trump is facing a more politically divided US. His priority is to create new jobs for Americans. He has succeeded in forcing the Ford Motor to scrap its plans for a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico.
However, the whole world has been worried about the negative impacts of the “America First” policy. Christine Lagarde, chief of the International Monetary Fund, warned that the Trump government’s economic policies could damage the global economy. In the past few decades, the US has been an endorser of free trade, but now it is becoming a pioneer of trade protectionism.
In the future, the Trump administration could use the Taiwan question or the South China Sea disputes to force China to make concessions on trade. The Trump government has set up a new body – the National Trade Council, the head of which is Peter Navarro, a professor of economics at the University of California who has no political experience.
Navarro is author of books including Death by China and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World, which are full of prejudices and fierce criticisms against China. He has also made some documentaries based on these books to demonize China.
The Trump administration lacks people with comprehensive knowledge of China. Almost all of Trump’s cabinet nominees hold a tough stance against China. If the US policy toward China were to be made by such a group of hawks, it would be in essence harmful to the US national interests.
In order to keep Sino-US relations on the right track, there are three things China and the US should pay attention to. First of all, the two countries should establish effective communication channels at the decision-making level as soon as possible. Many people in the Trump administration are new faces in the White House. They need a comprehensive understanding of the progress of the Sino-US relations over the past few years. Former US vice president Joe Biden has devoted a lot of energy to the bilateral relations. Trump needs to designate an authoritative figure among his core decision-makers to manage the US policy toward China.
Second, China and the US should make efforts to reach mutually beneficial deals. Trump needs to learn lessons from the trade wars that the Obama administration launched against China.
In 2009, the Obama administration imposed 35 percent tariffs on Chinese tires for protecting the US tire workers’ jobs. Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that this action saved 1,200 manufacturing jobs for the US. However, with a higher consumption cost for making tires, the US has lost some 2,500 retail jobs.
Third, the two countries should promote positive agendas for cooperation. Trump has strong interests in infrastructure construction. Both sides can seek new areas of cooperation in this regard. The US should rethink its position on the One Belt and One Road initiative. Companies from the two countries can find cooperation opportunities with countries in South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Sino-US cooperation can contribute to great achievements while conflicts between the two will bring disasters to both sides and the world. Trump should not apply zero-sum thinking on the bilateral relations. Beijing and Washington can find a way to make both China and the US great.
(The author is a research fellow at the Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. email@example.com)
America can’t be great again without China
By Zhao Minghao