If the US president expects significant economic climb-downs this week, he’ll be disappointedby George Magnus / April 3, 2017 / Leave a comment
Later this week, on 6th-7th April, Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping are scheduled to meet at Mar-a-Lago in Florida. Unlike previous meetings between the leaders of these two countries, which tended to be flagged a long time in advance, this one was confirmed only late last week. This suggests that the bar for a successful meeting has been set pretty low, and for good reason. US-Chinese relations are in any case frostier than they have been for a long time, the US side is being managed by President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has no experience of dealing with China, and the US, itself, currently has no China policy.
It is very likely that Trump will want to convey a different message to the Chinese President from the deferential, almost sycophantic one delivered by his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he met Xi Jinping very recently. If the last few days of tweets are anything to go by, Trump’s posture will not go down well. He has anticipated a “very difficult meeting” and insisted that the US can no longer tolerate “massive trade deficits and job losses.”
Whereas Trump’s predecessors both used highly respectful language towards China, welcoming its rising status and role in the global system, and looking forward to China’s playing a responsible role in the world system, Trump is likely to insist more forcefully that China must change. The Trump Administration speaks with multiple and often incoherent voices about China, but it will likely demand that the country become less protectionist and adopt a more restrained approach to international security, for example in the South China Sea.
It is possible that both Trump and Xi are playing down the significance of this meeting, so that small concessions on commerce can be played up. But we should not forget that Trump’s “America First” policy is about securing concessions from China on trade, currency arrangements and industrial policy and geopolitical strategy without offering much, if anything in return. The risk of a trade war may have receded a little since the early days of the presidency, as White House pragmatists have edged away their more ideological rivals. Silence has descended on, for example, the 45 per cent across-the-board tariff proposal, and on currency manipulation…