Source: The Standard Published: 2016-11-24
Donald Trump`s upset election victory cracks open pressing strategic and economic questions in U.S.-China ties, and has likely surprised and worried Chinese leaders, who prize stability in relations between the two powers.
Trump had lambasted China throughout the campaign, drumming up headlines with his pledges to slap 45 percent tariffs on imported Chinese goods and label the country a currency manipulator his first day in office.
He has also questioned U.S. security commitments to allies and undercut long-held bipartisan U.S. foreign policy norms, such as suggesting that Japan develop nuclear weapons, all stances that if he follows through on could upset the regional security balance in Asia.
China tends to prefer incumbent party successors with consistent policy lines. Trump`s lack of a governance track record and his unorthodox take on long-held Republican priorities could prove a headache for Chinese officials. Jia Qingguo, the dean of the School of International Relations at China`s elite Peking University and a government advisor, called Trump "a symbol of uncertainty".
"China hopes the United States` future policy would be more certain because in this way, we can prepare and deal with it," Jia said.
Certainly, a Trump White House presents China with a range of new opportunities. Decades of Hillary Clinton`s criticism of China`s human rights record and her insistence on U.S. interests in the South China Sea have made her a well-known, and not well-liked figure among Beijing`s ruling elite.
Chinese experts say some in Beijing believe Trump will prove a pragmatic businessman, willing to deal with China.
"Any type of protectionist policy pursued will be a double-edged sword," said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry. "I think he will be very careful about this,"
Moreover, Trump`s criticism of U.S. allies, including Japan, for free-riding on U.S. security guarantees, has offered China the tantalizing prospect of an American retrenchment from Asia. "
From a long-term perspective, this gives China more space to prove itself and it takes off some of the pressure on China," said Wang Yiwei, Director of the Institute of International Affairs at China`s Renmin University.
But a U.S. pullback in the region would raise other questions for Beijing, such as the uncomfortable prospect of a potential Japanese military expansion.
While Trump has vowed to build-up the U.S. military, in particular the Navy, he has said little publicly about his approach to Beijing`s increasingly assertive role in the South China Sea.
"Trump`s foreign policy approach does seem to be somewhat inchoate and therefore much will depend on who he appoints and who is willing to serve," said Dean Cheng, a China expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.