Wed, Apr 12, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Trump’s unexpected effectiveness

By Ian Inkster 音雅恩

The meeting in Florida last week between US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) could still mean anything, as some things might not yet have been reported, while others might be reinterpreted several times.

However, one thing is clear enough. The relative uneventfulness of the meeting is a complete reversal of expectations when measuring likelihoods in terms of Trump’s own China rhetoric hitherto. This — of course — might be the good news in what is otherwise a fairly dark period.

Just consider Trump’s recorded attitude, his tweets and his election campaign: All concerning China was negative, all was vindictive, much was unfair, none was diplomatic.

Now we witness a really important first meeting of the two most powerful men in the world, representing opposite positions on the spectrum of political ideologies, but also at natural odds with each other on such practical basics as Taiwan; foreign trade and protectionism; North Korea and the South China Sea generally; the whole gamut of environmental issues — although of course Trump was dismissive previously of threats to the global environment; the role of Japan in global and East Asian strategies; and so on.

We might have expected one spark to light at least a warming fire. Indeed, Xi began by urging cooperation with the US on trade and investment, and immediately suggested a return visit to China by Trump, much as if nothing was at large that was fundamentally contentious. No spark of contention seems to have been kindled. Why?

First, Trump had already played a huge card by initiating the dramatic US high-tech strike on a major Syrian military base. Not only did this take the wind from the sails of other issues at a world level, it served as a handy reminder of US power, sophistication of military capability and a seeming new willingness to act quickly. This was a nice combination to generate lowness of key on at least the part of Xi.

Second, it is possible that both leaders are being equally well-advised. The issues are highly complex and of major importance to global commerce and security

Third, it is also possible that Trump dictated the tenor of the meeting and chose a reversal of expectations to see just what sort of animal this China led by Xi really is.

Surely most of us have had reason to wonder just how much Trump knew about the complexities of Chinese history and politics say six months or so ago.

What did he know about Taiwan? Possibly what we have just witnessed is an example of the Trumpian learning process.

We can even have a bit of sympathy about this last point. Within the US media China has long been “othered” as darkly foreign, unfathomably communist and untrustworthy, and Trump might well have regarded his own election victory as highly unlikely.

This would not be a good background for a considered position on China.

Fourth, the meeting might well be our best evidence so far of Trump’s presidential style — loud and twittering rhetoric followed by a shock reversal or incident (ie, Syria) followed by a new position and twittering rhetoric that moves the Trump White House another step beyond the aims and claims of his earlier campaign toward a longer-term strategy of success and survival over at least a first, if not even a second, presidential term.

How the other big items such as Mexico, protectionism, social welfare and North Korea will pan out can not be at all certain yet.

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