Trump and China: What to Expect at the Start of a New Era of Sino-U.S. Relations

Trump and China: What to Expect at the Start of a New Era of Sino-U.S. Relations
What you need to know

The world needs to quickly come to terms with what for many was an unimaginable reality: Trump is President-elect of the United States.

Listen
powered by Cyberon

For many in the United States, Donald J. Trump’s election victory will result in weeks of relentless introspection, if not months and years. As Americans grapple with the question of how the unimaginable became reality, many outside the Unites States are already thinking about what the Trump administration, which will take office on Jan. 20, 2017, will mean for the international sphere, and in particular the all-important relationship between the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China.

“Anyone trying to forecast their policy-making goals or their business decisions vis-à-vis the United States, should have as their starting point that Trump will seek to implement the policies that he identified,” Ross D. Feingold, a senior advisor at DC International Advisory, told The News Lens International.

Taipei-based Feingold is a past Asia chairman of Republicans Abroad and currently represents Asia on the global board of directors of the non-partisan Association of Americans Resident Overseas. He notes the pre-election theories that Trump’s campaign may negatively impact other Republican candidates were “absolutely incorrect” – in addition to Trump defeating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, the Republican Party held its majority control of the Congress.

“Trump will seek to follow-up on many of the things he spoke about, especially now that he has a Republican [controlled] Congress,” he says.

In the lead-up to the election day, scandal-ridden campaigns on both sides dominated headlines and gave journalists and comedians alike ample fodder. In the midst of the unprecedented campaign rhetoric, Feingold sees a distinct policy direction for Trump’s first few months in office.

“It is clearly a focus on jobs, the domestic economy,” he says, adding that issues outside of the United States will not immediately be given priority.

Trade wars and China

However, job creation under President-elect Trump is likely to be inextricably tied to trade policy, one of the main issues he talked about on the campaign trail. As such, several countries, including China, may now expect to be the target of new trade tariffs and other measures.

“After China joined the World Trade Organization, our average growth rate has been reduced to only 2 percent […] I am going to instruct the U.S. Trade Representative to bring trade cases against China,” Trump told the New York Economic Club during the campaign. “China’s unfair subsidy behavior is prohibited by the terms of its entrance to the WTO [World Trade Organization], and I intend to enforce those rules."

Similarly, Trump promised to “direct my Secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator.”

“We’re going to stand up to China, we’re going to stop their currency manipulation and product dumping, which is killing us,” he told a rally in North Carolina, adding that if “they don’t follow the rules” the U.S. will “institute tariffs.”

In terms of China’s approach to President Trump, Feingold suggests that Beijing will be accustomed to facing challenges in its trading and business relationship with the United States.

“China is used to this; they are used to accusations by the U.S. government on things like dumping, and higher tariffs on certain Chinese goods that have been found to violate U.S. dumping regulations,” he says.

He adds that amid a series of “significant” recent Chinese investments in the U.S., some have been “challenged on national security concerns, reviewed by relevant agencies and rejected.”

“What remains to be seen is what additional measures President Trump will take with regards to Chinese goods entering the United States,” he says.

More generally – notwithstanding there is “certainly unknown element” of a Trump presidency and more was known about Clinton and her likely approach – China will not likely be entering the Trump era totally unprepared, Feingold says.

“We should assume, like any sophisticated leadership around the world they would have prepared for both scenarios,” he says.

And, of course, changes to the global trading system – in addition to refusing to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, Trump has promised to rehash or scrap the longstanding North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – will impact other export-led economies across the world.

“Pennsylvania has lost almost 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs since NAFTA […] The city of Philadelphia has lost more than one-third of its manufacturing jobs since China joined the Word Trade Organization,” Trump told a rally in Pennsylvania during the campaign.

While perhaps not immediate concerns for President Trump in his first 100 days in office, there are also questions relating to intellectual property and cyber security, which he has signaled as potentially coming to the fore in U.S.-China relations.

“You look at the way they are stealing our intellectual property and our intellectual rights, it is crazy what they do,” Trump said of China in a CNBC interview. “It’s like there [are] no laws pertaining to them. You can certainly make a case in court, what they have done to us is incredible.”

Security questions more opaque

During the campaign, Trump oftentimes praised the strength of the Chinese leadership, usually as a means to attack a “weak” President Obama or his opponent's foreign policy record. But he has also spoken out against China’s aggression in the South China Sea, the disputed territory that China claims as its own and where it has been constructing new military installations.

“They are building right now a tremendous fortress in the South China Sea. They are not supposed to be doing it, but they are doing it because they have no respect for Obama, they laugh at Hillary [Clinton],” Trump said at a rally in Florida. “What they are doing is such a big violation, but they have no respect for Obama, and they no longer respect our country.”

Vice President-elect Mike Pence, during the first vice presidential debate, reiterated the position that under President Trump the United States would “go back to the days of peace through strength.”

“When Donald Trump is president of the United States, we’re not going to have the kind of posture in the world that has Russia invading Crimea and Ukraine, that has the Chinese building new islands in the South China Sea, that has literally the world, including North Korea, flouting American power,” Pence said.

“It begins by rebuilding our military. And the Russians and the Chinese have been making enormous investments in the military. We have the smallest Navy since 1916. We have the lowest number of troops since the end of the Second World War. We’ve got to work with Congress, and Donald Trump will, to rebuild our military and project American strength in the world.”

Feingold notes that while that Trump has spoken frequently about investing in the U.S. military, exact details about what that investment program will look like are not yet known.

Taiwan sits perpetually at the risk of Chinese military aggression, save for its own defense systems and the underlying U.S. security presence across the region.

Feingold suggests that given the uncertainty in Taiwan’s foreign policy program, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) “should follow up the priorities she has identified with regards to Taiwan’s defense needs" – which involves boosting Taiwan’s own defense spending.

Editor: Olivia Yang