tensions and volatility are not new in Sino-American relations. Both
major powers diverge on a wide range of geopolitical and strategic
issues such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile
system deployment in South Korea and the management of the North Korean nuclear issue.
the run-up to Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the
United States, China and the United States have seen premature
confrontation on two other sensitive issues that may continue to endure
under a Trump presidency: the Taiwan issue and the South China Sea (SCS)
disputes. Trump’s controversial phone
conversation with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen upended the status quo
in cross-strait relations and put into question the United States’
commitment to the One China policy, which China deems a nonnegotiable core interest.
In responding to China’s evocation of the long-standing concordat, Trump resorted to “Twitter diplomacy”
in stepping up invectives against China’s currency manipulation and
construction of a “massive military complex” in the SCS. He also
criticized China for taxing hefty fines on American goods, which has
contributed to the large American trade deficit.
not long after the unprecedented phone call, China was quick to
demonstrate its resolve in averting a possible Taiwan Strait Crisis 3.0
and in responding to Trump’s provocations: nuclear-capable bombers (轰/H-6K) were flown near Taiwan; an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) of the US Navy was seized; the aircraft carrier group Liaoning (辽宁舰/CV-16) conducted its first live-fire exercise in
the Bohai Sea; and weapons in the artificial islands in the SCS were
installed. Trump’s unsettling remarks are not alone and have been
accompanied by that of his cabinet appointees. For instance, Trump’s
Secretary of Defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, commented that China is “shredding trust along its periphery” in responding to Beijing’s securitization of the SCS, while Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, proposed that China should be barred access to its artificial islands in the SCS.
Trump’s Foreign Policy
Trump formally US President, signs are much clearer that he is being
true to his campaign promises. In his inaugural speech, he
unsurprisingly reaffirmed his consistent campaign battle cry of “Make
America Great Again.”
Trump’s foreign policy orientation may be examined by looking into his electoral promises and recent policy directions.
resonant mantra suggests that he is not satisfied with the current
order of things and is conscious of revitalizing US economic standing;
and accordingly, of US economic power and dominance. For Trump, to make
America great again is by putting “America First” on all issues,
especially in the economic realm. This means lesser consideration for
strategic commitments abroad and the avoidance of entanglements that
strain American resources and divert issues from domestic priorities.
Second, Trump is patently clear on his economic, ideological, and strategic agenda.
redefines US economic and trade strategy through protectionism and what
he calls “smart trade.” The former is by slapping heavy fines on
companies that do not employ American labor or reinstate jobs on
American soil. The latter is through indifference to mega-free trade
deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American
Free Trade Area (NAFTA), and opting instead for bilateral trade
agreements. Furthermore, by Trump treating Taiwan as a “bargaining chip”
to draw economic concessions from China, economics apparently precedes
politics. Hence, politics is a means to economic ends, that is, the
achievement of American economic interests. One should thus not be
surprised if this also holds true in the case of the SCS.
discourse is a sharp departure from previous US foreign policy
rhetoric. Trump has shifted the terms of discussion from the US
preaching as the leader of the free world and principal advocate of
liberal internationalism, to matters that support American economic and
his inaugural address, Trump also reiterated that the United States
would not impose its values — such as human rights and democracy — on
other countries. This apparently heralds a “post-liberal”
era or a less interventionist (selective isolationism) role for the US
in the domestic affairs of other states. In other words, Trump is
disinterested in maintaining a liberal international order founded on
liberal democratic values. This augurs well for Southeast Asian
countries such as Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and
Vietnam, whom were all denounced by the Obama administration to have
violated certain democratic principles. The reduction of values
emphasis, however, may come at the long-term strategic cost of American
soft power and ideological alignment with key allies.
Strategically, Trump did not mince words in wanting to have a “great rebuilding” of the US Armed Forces, which includes an upsized Navy and an enhanced nuclear
and ballistic missile capabilities. Specifically, Trump wants to engage
in the largest defense investment since the 1990s and expand the US
Navy’s current number of 308 ships to 350 ships. This complements the
2016 Naval Force Structure Assessment (SFA) to have a 355-ship fleet
including 12 carriers, 104 large surface combatants, 52 small surface
combatants, 38 amphibious ships, and 66 submarines.
the plan of the Obama administration to transfer 60 percent of American
naval assets from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 2020, as part of the
Rebalance to Asia, may yet be far from over.
American Exceptionalism and Pax Sinica
United States has always prided itself as a country that is a “City on a
Hill,” beacon of democracy, and the provider of public goods and global
leadership. By repeatedly making statements such as “Make America Great
Again” and “America First,” Trump is still treading along traditional
US foreign policy lines of being the “greatest” and most “powerful”
country in the world. This is also indicative that Trump wants to arrest
the so-called “American decline” and maintain American pre-eminence and
way he wants this to be achieved is not through the expansion of
democratic zones around the world, but to keep hold of an international
order where America continues to enjoy superpower status. This,
essentially, makes the renunciation of American spheres of influence
remote, especially when taking into account national strategic goods and
valuable bases of power.
exercise of leadership will be a crucial factor in terms of directing
the future of Sino-US relations, particularly the continued American
interaction toward a rising China. For example, it remains to be seen
how the Trump administration will be receptive to China’s “New Model of Major Country Relations”
(新型大国关系), which has two major goals: maintain a cooperative agenda
while constructively managing differences with the US and to disprove
the “Thucydides Trap” and the “Tragedy of Great Power Politics,” which both forewarn disastrous conflict for transitioning great powers.
respect to policies toward Asia, continued US preference for networked
alliances and military force posturing would, in one way or another,
have to square against China’s regional security vision of comprehensive
security (综合安全), cooperative security (合作安全), common security (共同安全),
and sustainable security (可持续安全) as stated in the Chinese White Paper China’s Policies on Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation (中国的亚太安全合作政策), which all emphasize nonintervention from extra-regional powers and a non-alliance-based regional architecture.
ROLAND SAN JUAN was a researcher, management consultant, inventor, a part time radio broadcaster and a publishing director. He died last November 25, 2008 after suffering a stroke. His staff will continue his unfinished work to inform the world of the untold truths. Please read Erick San Juan's articles at: ericksanjuan.blogspot.com This blog is dedicated to the late Max Soliven, a FILIPINO PATRIOT.
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