America Can Be First Without China Being Last

Xi and Trump at Mar-a-Lago

A woman walks past containers at a port in Shanghai, January 13, 2009.  Aly Song / Reuters

President Xi Jinping of China is traveling to Florida to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump. For those who are familiar with the Chinese cultural emphasis on protocol and formalities, this visit will be an unusual affair. China has a highly ceremonial culture. For the Chinese president to bypass the pomp and circumstance of a state visit and travel so far to call on Trump for the first time at his private estate is an extraordinary gesture of good will. And Trump seems to be reciprocating by hosting Xi at Mar-a-Lago, a treatment so far accorded only to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, the United States’ closest regional ally.

A few tweets of complaints about trade and North Korea notwithstanding, Trump has exhibited rather uncharacteristic warmth in anticipation of the meeting. In an interview with the Financial Times, the U.S. President noted his “great respect” for Xi and for China. He expressed hope that the two leaders could accomplish “something that would be very dramatic and good for both countries.” 

His words marked quite a turnaround from a few months ago, when Trump’s tough campaign rhetoric about China and remarks putting the United States’ longstanding One-China policy in doubt threw relations into a freeze. It seems, in short, that something is afoot. But what? 

No doubt, there remains rivalry aplenty between the world’s one superpower and its fastest rising power. But a clear-headed analysis would show that, at this moment in time, the two countries’ list of common interests might be expanding rather than shrinking.

First the big picture. Trump was elected, against all odds, because the United States faces unprecedented challenges. Nearly 30 years of global expansion has benefited the very rich, but the bedrock of American society, the middle class, is crumbling, and along with it, American social cohesion. If the Trump administration is going to succeed in making America great again, it needs to focus its resources on rebuilding the country. Indeed, it even

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