US-China Policy under President Trump

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The United States relationship with China has had volatile past due to the existence of numerous conflicts across issues such as military support, Taiwan, and economic welfare. During this unstable history, the US has engaged in intense geopolitical disputes with the Asian nation. For instance, China’s support for North Korea in 1950, as well as intense economic competition, led to negative relations. Today, both countries serve as commercial beacons for the rest of the world. The US is the world’s biggest economy while China growth has propelled it to a close second. As such, the prominent status held by both countries calls for increased positive relations. These relations were achieved in the previous administrations where presidents of the United States welcomed positive relationships. However, the foreign relations landscape under President Donald J. Trump seems to be undetermined in its approach to US-China relations. The administration is composed of people with differing viewpoints on US-China relations leading to contradictory opinions from the president. This paper will develop an understanding of the significance of these connections as well as the current administration’s outlook towards the issue.

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Background on US-China relations

The period between 1940 and 1965 involved geopolitical conflicts between the United States and China. The US had recognized the Nationalist Party as the sovereign leaders of China. However, their exile to Taiwan by the Communist Party and the formation of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong led to conflict between the US and the PRC (Council for Foreign Relations). The recognition of the nationalist party in Taiwan led to negative relations between the two countries that intensified as the rivalry between the two sides grew. For example, the Taiwan Strait Crisis led to the signing of a Mutual Defense Treaty with the US that granted the Nationalist Party American military support.  The negative relationship further intensified by the emergence of the Korean war that dictated the US take the side of North Korea while the PRC backed the communist north. This conflict led to acts of aggression on either side using the Korean War as a proxy in their relationship. In 1959, the Tibetan uprising led to the negative progression of the US-China relations. The PRC was responsible for annexing Tibet and oppressing the people through brutal violence. The United States stood alongside the United Nations in condemning the actions of the PRC.

The relationship between the United States and the PRC started to develop a positive relationship in the early 1970s after the Sino-Soviet conflict that led to the escalation Moscow’s threat against China. Additionally, the industrial revolution that started to propel China forward was a welcome development from the United States.  In what was called the ‘Ping Pong Democracy,’ the warm relationship between the nations started to show with increasing cultural ties through sports (Council for Foreign Relations). It also led to the recognition of the PRC as the leading party in China and its lawful government, thereby pushing away from the nationalist government. Jimmy Carter’s administration adopted the One China policy that viewed Mainland China as the only Chinese administration. This development occurred despite US minimal but existent relations with Taipei. President Reagan facilitated a non-interference approach to China Taiwan ties but retained economic and military connections between the two groups. The brutal response to the Tiananmen Square strained the relationship between the US and China again leading to President Clinton’s ‘constructive engagement’ initiative. Under this action, the US worked towards freeing detained dissidents.

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This relationship took an economic turn after the signing of the US-China relations Act that promoted trade between the countries. This commercial relationship also facilitated the PRC’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization and its recognition as a significant economic power in the world (Council for Foreign Relations). China also became the US largest creditor further increasing economic interdependence. In fact, China even rose to be the next biggest economy in the world cementing its commercial presence in the world further and presenting itself as an economic competitor and ally to the US.  This growth also led to significant cross investing between the two nations. The blossoming relationship also contributed to China’s recognition as the substantial political power that can influence the performance of other regional and international political conflicts. For example, China became a mediator between North Korea and the rest of the world concerning its nuclear program.  The relationship between the two nations has maintained a system of mutual respect and cooperation on numerous global issues including trade, politics, and climate.

President Trump’s Administration on China

The current administration’s outlook towards China is haphazard, to say the least. The president has provided contradictory statements on the US stand on trade relations as well as political relations with China. The president has maintained a critical perspective towards these relations. However, de does seem to favor positive relations with the nations as evidenced by his attempts to cultivate a positive relationship with President Xi. This section will present an overview of the administration’s perception of the relations on several topics.

Taiwan

The issue of Taiwan has been an ever-present thorn in the side of US foreign relations with China. The Chinese government does not consider Taiwan sovereign or independent. Instead, the PRC claims that Taiwan is part of the Mainland’s administration. This stand exists despite the presence of a nationalist government in Taipei.  The US has had relationships with both countries including the defense treaty and the US-China Relations Act (Council for Foreign Relations). Past American presidents have distanced themselves from the conflict but have also recognized the PRC as the ruling party in China under its ‘One China’ policy. However, despite this system and formal ties to mainland China, the US government still maintains the terms of the treaty by supplying arms to the Taipei. This complicated relationship has led to a policy of minimal interference as well as a public a formal relationship between China and the United States.

President trump has approached the issue of Taiwan with caution due to its implications on the regions geopolitical landscape. After his win as a resident, the president engaged in a phone call with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen. This act led to significant controversy due to the assumption that America recognized the nation of Taiwan (Mason et al.). This communication was the first in almost four decades, thereby marking a significant moment in Washington Beijing relations. However, President Trump went on record to decline further dialogue with Taiwan without the involvement of the Chinese leader. This move was aimed to appease US-China relations after the call. Nevertheless, it did little to distract China from the fact that the US government had pledged a military aid package to Taiwan in contradiction to the one-China policy. China has always maintained that aid to Taiwan will have adverse diplomatic consequences to foreign partners.

North Korea

North Korea has always maintained a central position in the US-China relations. In the 20th Century, the PRC seemed to hold a sympathetic perspective towards the communist party in North Korea. As such, the government supported the northern territory against American and South Korean aggression (Davis). However, this relationship has evolved to a point where China has become a US ally in the determination of North Korea’s nuclear program. In fact, President Trump has made efforts to enhance the relationship with China as a way of securing a partner against Kim Jong Un’s tyrannical leadership and Pyongyang’s efforts towards actualizing their nuclear arsenal.  In fact, this has been one of the leading talking points as well as reasons for cooperation between the two nations. China is well poised to initiate dialogue as well as other diplomatic tools in the engagement with North Korea.

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Despite the apparent intentions of cooperation, President Trump has been critical of China’s efforts towards curbing the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program (Davis). North Korea has been increasing its nuclear missile tests since the inauguration of president Trump, who has responded by taunting the North Korean leader and threatening military action. The intensification of this conflict has occurred against increased trade interactions between Beijing and North Korea leading to criticism from the president. In fact, the president claims that China is not exerting enough pressure on North Korea economically to suppress the nuclear program. As such, it is evident that the policy of cooperation against North Korea is underway albeit at slow and in some cases, counterintuitive actions on the side of China, as the war of words between Trump and Un intensify.

Trade

Trade is perhaps the primary focus of the current administration towards US-China relations. President Trump campaigned on an anti-China rhetoric that disparaged the Asian economic powerhouse for undermining the US economy (Phillips). The president attacked China for stealing American jobs and for flooding the United States with cheap substandard products that endanger American companies. Previous administrations in the US have focused on improving economic ties with China in an age of globalization (US Department of State). However, Trump seemed to take a stand against globalization in favor of American industrialism. He also accused past leadership of allowing China to take advantage of the US economy. President Trump along with his administration blames China for the sizeable economic deficit experienced in the US today (Phillips). However, despite these harsh and critical comments, Trump has a softer approach to China as evidenced by his actions. In a recent trip to China, Trump and Xi collaborated on the signing of financial deals amounting to $250 billion (Phillips). This approach reinforces the US’ determination to increase cooperation with China in spite of the president’s negative remarks on China. Therefore, the current abstract policy held by the US on China aims to increase bilateral economic cooperation between the two countries. However, it should be noted that Trump’s administration seeks to leverage the relationship with China to promote political cooperation primarily against North Korea.

The South China Sea

The South China Sea is an origin of significant controversy and conflict among Asian countries. The battle encompasses five countries including China, Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan. The contested region is a leading trading channel handling over $3 trillion worth of business. As such, the issue is of significant concern to Beijing that has successfully claimed that largest portion of the archipelago. The United States, through Donald Trump, expressed concern over the issue due to the prominence of the relationships between the US and the countries involved in the conflict. It led to Trump’s offer to act as a mediator between the nations in a bid to promote an efficient and utilitarian outcome for the region (Holland and Nguyen). This proposal presents a relationship between the US and China that is cooperative and perhaps even beneficial in the end. Despite the absence of any explicit declarations of the US intervening as a mediator, the situation does signal a positive relationship between the US and China in its interest for an amicable solution.

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Benefits and drawbacks of the policy

The cultivation of a positive relationship between the US and China presents a new dawn for US foreign relations. The two countries make up the world’s largest economies making them powerful nations around the globe. As such, a positive relationship between the two countries has the potential to lead to positive developments in global politics and economy (Tao). An enhanced political relationship between the two nations can lead to the achievement of critical objectives such as reaching a peaceful resolution with North Korea. China already has an established relationship with North Korea, unlike the United States that has imposed sanctions on the small Asian nation. China can improve the situation by acting as a mediator between the two countries. The escalation of the ‘cold war’ between the US and North Korea has the potential to lead to a global crisis. Therefore, cooperation between US and China can prevent a disastrous and aggressive turn of events.

However, the uncertainty between the American administrations on US-China relations can have disastrous effects on the US economy. China’s growth is a marvel of the 21st indicating further growth is possible. As such, it is better for the US to maintain relations and reduce its criticism of China’s economic growth and its implications on the United. Such criticism may lead to further isolation of the US from the global economy and an increase in Chinese influence (Tan). It would undermine the US’ domination of international trade as well as its diminishing control over the geopolitical developments in other nations due to the loss of economic advantage. This course of events would undermine America’s position in the world and isolate it from the benefits of globalization. Therefore, the president should act towards increasing bilateral trade relations with China to maintain America’s dominance.

Conclusions

US-China relations have always been the source of controversy since the formation of the PRC under the Communist Party. The United States has had to maneuver cautiously around issues such as recognition of Taiwan, North Korea, and trade.  The current administration has also had to struggle with these problems in maintaining a relationship with Beijing. Amidst contradictory public statements on the relationship with China, Trump has managed a collaborative but critical approach to the relations. He has facilitated increased economic trade with the nation. The US has also engaged the Asian country on geopolitical issues such as North Korea’s nuclear platform and the South China Sea conflict. Additionally, increased economic ties stand to promote bilateral trade. However, a perspective critical to globalization and trade with China that is common in the president’s rhetoric could undermine America’s global dominance.

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  1. Holland, Steve, and Mai Nguyen. “Trump Offers To Mediate On South China Sea.” U.S., 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trump-asia-vietnam/trump-offers-to-mediate-on-south-china-sea-idUSKBN1DC04H?il=0.
  2. Davis, Julie. “Trump Criticizes China As Meeting On North Korea Nears.” Nytimes.Com, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/us/politics/trump-china-north-korea.html.
  3. Mason, Jeff et al. “Exclusive: Trump Spurns Taiwan President’s Suggestion of another Phone.” U.S., 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-taiwan-exclusive/exclusive-trump-spurns-taiwan-presidents-suggestion-of-another-phone-call-idUSKBN17U05I.
  4. Tao, Xie. “Is Donald Trump’s China Policy More Sensible Than His Election Campaign Rhetoric?” Forbes.Com, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/insideasia/2017/11/08/is-donald-trumps-china-policy-more-sensible-than-his-election-campaign-rhetoric/#7e1a3b8e33b7.
  5. Tan, Huileng. “China-USA Relations May Have Reached A Turning Point — and Not For the Better.” CNBC, 2017, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/06/china-USA-relations-reach-a-turning-point–and-not-for-the-better.html.
  6. US Department of State. “China.” U.S. Department of State, https://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/18902.htm.
  7. Council for Foreign Relations. “Timeline: U.S. Relations with China 1945—2017.” Council on Foreign Relations, 2017, https://www.cfr.org/timeline/us-relations-china.
  8. Phillips, Tom. “Trump Praises China and Blames US for Trade Deficit.” The Guardian, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/09/donald-trump-china-act-faster-north-korea-threat.
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