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Building US-China Relations: What Did We Learn From President Trump’s Visit To China? – Analysis

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US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were greeted to a warm welcome during their state visit to China.

Coming off a fresh start from the 19th National Congress, President Xi has embraced confidence in his leadership or the next five years. After the warm ceremonies of friendship and symbolism came the face-to-face negotiations, and both presidents have been tested to see if the world’s two superpowers, China a rising power and the United States a dominant power can work together on enhancing bilateral trade and maximizing pressure on the DPRK’s nuclear program.

On the campaign trail, Trump criticized the trade deficit with China to be unfair and unstable, but when it came to face-to-face dialogue with Chinese officials, he took back what he said; “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”

President Xi acknowledged the $347 billion trade deficit between China and the United States calling on Washington “to further expand trade and investment cooperation, strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination, pursue healthy, stable, and dynamically balanced economic and trade relations.”

China remains an incredibly important market for the 29 CEO’s that came to China, and they managed to sign 15 agreements of up to $250 billion on fields like natural gas, auto parts, and aircraft. However, the DPRK remains a significant challenge for Beijing and Washington.

President Xi reiterated that the two sides will continue to cooperate as much as they can through dialogue and negotiations for a stable, peaceful Korean Peninsula, and China will continue to abide by UN Security Council Resolutions. Both presidents headed to Vietnam for the 2017 APEC Summit where they will be sharing their ideas for economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.

There were a lot of expectations for China and the United States going into this trip by President Trump. On the whole, this was a successful visit because there was a mutual respect for each other, and they both recognize the problems that are important for both countries. Through Trump’s visit to China, the two sides need to recognize that they need to work together to resolve differences on geopolitical/strategic issues, and further cooperation on economics and trade in a cautious, peaceful way.

The success of the visit came from the two presidents to set a positive tone for bilateral relations for the next five years, and this is more important for future cooperation. This visit was significant from the Chinese side because President Trump’s visit marks the first time that President Xi has hosted an incoming US president. Trump’s state visit was a landmark for US-China relations, and for the first time, President Trump publicly congratulated a Chinese leader after a National Congress, which has never been done in the past.

Another takeaway from Trump’s visit was his respect for China as a world power, he respected Xi Jingping, and not only did Trump put emphasis on the US-China bilateral relationship, but he also furthered the personal relationship as well.

In order to further bilateral trade relations, there must be a mutual understanding between the US and China, but at the same time, it is also important to understand the reasons behind the trade imbalance between Beijing and Washington. First, China does not have a policy to chase trade surpluses with the US or any country in the world, and it wants balanced trade relations with the global community.

Second, China wants to further trade with other countries through WTO rules and international norms, and thirdly, China and the United States need to understand that the mutual bilateral relationship benefits both countries through win-win compromise, and not by zero-sum standards. At the 19th National Congress, China made a decision to diversify the economy and create an openness with the outside world, while at the same time, continue to reform the economic structures of the Chinese economy. This will provide China with an opportunity to not only develop its own economy, but allow it to integrate the economy with the rest of the world that allows for both the U.S and China to explore areas of opportunity on issues like trade that can benefit both countries for future cooperation.

Before President Trump left for his Asia tour, there was some chatter about an Indo-Pacific alliance which included the United States, India, Australia, and Japan to contain Chinese influence in the South China Sea, but China does not see any problem with the United States cooperating with other players in the region so long as these relationships contribute to peace and stability in the region, and across the world.

In this regard, China has improved its relations with regional players like South Korea on the DPRK issue, the Philippines and Vietnam on the South China Sea issue, a slow improvement with Japan where there are still major trust issues between the two countries, and continuing to maintain a stable relationship with the United States.

The Asia-Pacific region is a community of countries that share cultural bonds, geopolitical interests, and trade with each other. In fact, most of the world’s trade goes through this region, and most of the world’s natural resources are found in the Asia-Pacific as well which is vital for not only the regional Asian nations, but for U.S interests like freedom of navigation, allowing for Asian countries to settle their own differences by themselves, creating a balance for regional order between the US and China, and maintaining the rule of law.

Nine months into the Trump presidency, North Korea remains high on the totem pole for this administration. Before his visit to Asia, Trump called out China as the key to maximizing pressure and engaging with the DPRK. But this is not just China’s problem, this Washington’s problem, Seoul’s problem, Moscow’s problem, and Tokyo’s problem too.

China alone cannot resolve the DPRK issue, although, a solution like a double freeze could run through Beijing. So far, China has succeeded on putting maximum pressure on Pyongyang by cutting coal exports to North Korea, abiding by UN Security Council resolutions, and agreeing to place more sanctions on the DPRK.

The US and China, along with Russia have also succeeded by working together on implementing the sanctions while at the same time maximizing pressure on the North Koreans to come to the negotiating table. If the Northeast Asian countries along with the United States can maximize pressure and engagement on the DPRK together, it will be a success. Unfortunately for the Clinton Administration, their time ran out on the North Korea negotiations, and when the second Bush came to the presidency, the progress with the DPRK came to an abrupt halt.

In order for the Trump Administration to avoid past mistakes, there needs to be a will from his cabinet members to support a direct negotiation with the DPRK and the other parties to resolve Korean peninsula tensions once and for all. Neither China or the U.S want to see instability as it threatens their national interests.

A broader issue in current US -China relations have been President Xi’s use of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and Trump’s motto of America First. Both leaders face different political situations where Xi Jingping is widely popular in China, and President Trump is not so widely popular with very low approval ratings. However, China does not see a vacuum being left over from US leadership, and it does not want to take advantage of US leadership. But instead, China sees an opportunity for more globalization, multilateralism, and engagement with the major economies of the world because China and the world face similar global challenges where there are opportunities for engagement on issues like counterterrorism, the environment, UN peacekeeping, and greater integration.

China is in the process of revitalizing the Chinese nation while the US, at least amongst Trump supporters, is embracing America first. Both Xi and Trump have focused on domestic agendas on rejuvenating their economies, and they want to create a better life for their peoples going forward. Hopefully, the friendly gestures between the two leaders can lead to further cooperation to achieve an ever-lasting peace on US-China relations.


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Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso

Vincent Lofaso is a recent graduate of Manhattan College with a Political Science major with a focus in international affairs. Most of his research is related on geopolitical and security issues.

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