In his visit to Beijing this week, President Donald J. Trump is meeting his counterpart, Xi Jinping, “at the apex of his own political power and contemplating a status quo in Asia increasingly tilted in China’s favor,” writes Yale Law School’s Mira Rapp-Hooper in Foreign Affairs. “Since last November, China has succeeded in appearing to more and more of Asia as the steady, stable great power alongside an unpredictable and undependable United States.”
Rapp-Hooper argues Xi “has only to get through Trump’s visit with some symbolic deals and few meaningful results” before “he confidently launches the next phase in his ongoing narrative of Chinese ascendance and American decline.”
Rapp-Hooper observes, “The first nine months of his presidency have seen Trump focused almost exclusively on two regional policy issues: trade deficits and the North Korean nuclear threat. Nowhere will these issues take on higher billing than in China. . . . The trouble is that significant victories on either issue would require major sacrifices to China’s perceived national interest. Xi will thus find it easier to protect his policy interests than Trump will find it to advance his own.”
“If Trump were to offer a concrete vision for his trade policy, push China to make its own economic reforms, and ask for specific concessions, he might have some chance at modest progress. . . . But simply demanding a ‘fairer’ economic relationship in broad terms allows Xi to offer up splashy but inconsequential deals that have no material impact on the overall trade relationship. . . . Trump’s demands will do little to either reduce the trade deficit or restore American jobs,” cautions Rapp-Hooper.
The author writes, “Since his early days as a presidential candidate, Trump has insisted that China has the power to ‘solve the North Korea problem’ should it wish to do so.” However, Rapp-Hooper warns, “although Beijing, like Washington, would prefer to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, its first priority is to maintain stability. . . . Xi may have shown that he is willing to apply economic pressure to Pyongyang, but only insofar as it does not risk destabilizing the regime.”
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