Engagement is better than isolation in Sino-US relations under Trump

Global Times  |

The shocking election of Donald Trump as US president confirms a suspicion numerous American experts themselves have had over the past several years: rather than being the stable anchor of the global system, the US has now become a variable, even a cause of volatility. This was one theory that was devised by the US National Intelligence Council in its recently published Global Trends 2030 report, for which I was an advisor. The future has arrived more quickly than anyone expected. Trump has set his sights on upending one of the most important geopolitical relationships, namely between the US and China. His reductionist populism posits China and Mexico as both geopolitically and economically hostile: Mexico a source of violent drug traffickers and gangsters that steals American jobs in growing numbers since the NAFTA trade agreement, and China a military aggressor that has also stolen millions of American jobs since its entry into the WTO. There is little or no room in his worldview for a mutually beneficial globalization. In truth, he is not alone in having an overly simplistic view of global strategic affairs. Many of the American elite have a binary view of China that leans toward a pessimistic orientation. It is so common to hear clichés in Washington about how China cannot grow rich before it grows old, cannot become green before it turns black, cannot rebalance from investment to consumption, cannot survive as a one-party state, and so forth. No matter how many times such shibboleths are proven wrong, they are constantly repeated and accepted as wise insights in American discourse. The most dangerous aphorism of all, of course, is that a superpower and its nearest peer competitor are always fated to engage in major conflicts with one another. Fortunately, recent history has proven to be a much better guide to how rival states can manage competition in a connected world than this brand of shallow analysis. China and India still have outstanding border disputes, but nonetheless, the government of Narendra Modi has proven very willing to accept Chinese foreign investment and even begun to imitate the country's new special economic zones. Bilateral trade has reached nearly $80 billion per year. And even as dangerous incidents have taken place in the South China Sea over disputed islands, opportunities exist to jointly develop the undersea oil and gas deposits while ensuring freedom of navigation and commerce for all the world's industries which depend on these waters for trade. It is hoped that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will continue this positive momentum in maintaining stability among major powers. As the former CEO of Exxon, he assumes the helm of American diplomacy just as America has become the world's largest oil and gas producer. Just one year ago, the US directly sells oil to China, a sign of how expanding production and connecting markets can ensure long-term global energy security for the world. A decade ago, experts believed that the US and China were destined to fight WWIII over the Arab region's oil and resources. Today, there is no need for any kind of "resource war." One hopes that a similar pragmatism will apply to all trade related matters. Unlike Trump, Tillerson advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. America is right to seek to counter unfair trade practice - and for this, there is the WTO dispute resolution mechanism. Furthermore, American companies still depend on exports to China for their immediate and long-term growth. Instead of sparking a trade war, the US should seek greater reciprocity in terms of a level playing field. The fundamental message in this prescription is that engagement is a better strategy than isolation. This is certainly true when it comes to states that have been sources of regional instability. Sanctions are clearly ineffective in changing regimes or policies, while pragmatic commercial investment and political dialogue are more likely to offer incentives and modify future policies. The US and China too must find more ways to engage with each other. The evolution toward a new world order need not be a threat, but rather an opportunity.

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