China Can Thrive in the Trump Era
BEIJING — President Trump and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, are in a bind. Mr. Trump’s slogan is to “Make America Great Again,” while Mr. Xi’s motto is “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation.” The phrases have the same meaning: Each leader suggests his country has declined and claims that he will restore it to the top position in the world. But the triumph of one country is built on the failure of the other. It’s a zero-sum game.
Mr. Trump’s move on Monday to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership — an Obama administration trade proposal meant to strengthen America’s economic power at China’s expense — leaves little doubt that the president will follow through with his campaign promises to upend American trade policies, including those toward China. Taken with Mr. Trump’s postelection telephone chat with the leader of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, a major break with diplomatic protocol, we can expect a jolt to United States-China relations.
But while a trade war, military skirmishes in the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait, or other diplomatic crises could cause a hiccup in China’s rise, the Trump era will offer plenty of opportunities for Beijing. China has a chance to become a full-fledged superpower if it responds to the Trump presidency by opening up more to the world economically and politically.
China has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of globalization, which helped bring hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty in the past three decades. And as much as Mr. Trump would like to freeze the forces of free trade, the world will keep globalizing.
Mr. Trump’s scrapping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a chance for Beijing to strengthen its position as the economic leader of East Asia by bolstering regional trade. China is party to a free-trade agreement with Southeast Asian nations, and Beijing should encourage South Korea and Australia to join that pact. Japan is reluctant to become part of a trade group that includes China, so Beijing should leave Tokyo behind.
The Chinese leadership should also end its long-held policy of avoiding formal alliances. As the Trump administration signals it may ignore Beijing’s One-China policy and treat Taiwan as an independent country, potentially upending the bedrock of American-Chinese relations since 1979, Beijing should establish military alliances with as many neighbors as possible. China has so-called strategic partnerships with most of its neighbors, but only Pakistan is a traditional military ally.
If China were to form meaningful bilateral military pacts with Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and especially the Philippines, America would have more difficulty joining a potential war in the Taiwan Strait — a very real possibility given Mr. Trump’s threats to the status quo.
An East Asian trade agreement and a raft of new formal alliances would help Beijing take the position as the leader of East Asia and make the region safer.
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