Fri, May 25, 2018 - Page 9 News List

The world according to Trump and Xi

US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ are founded on a common premise: that they have complete latitude to act in their own interest

By Brahma Chellaney  /  Project Syndicate

Illustration: Mountain People

The world’s leading democracy, the US, is looking increasingly like the world’s biggest and oldest surviving autocracy, China. By pursuing aggressively unilateral policies that flout broad global consensus, US President Donald Trump effectively justifies his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping’s (習近平) longtime defiance of international law, exacerbating already serious risks to the rules-based world order.

China is aggressively pursuing its territorial claims in the South China Sea — including by militarizing disputed areas and pushing its borders far out into international waters — despite an international arbitral ruling invalidating them.

Moreover, Beijing has weaponized transborder river flows and used trade as an instrument of geo-economic coercion against countries that refuse to toe its line.

The US has often condemned these actions, but under Trump, those condemnations have lost credibility, and not just because they are interspersed with praise for Xi, whom Trump has called “terrific” and “a great gentleman.”

In fact, Trump’s behavior has heightened the sense of US hypocrisy, emboldening China further in its territorial and maritime revisionism in the Indo-Pacific region.

To be sure, the US has long pursued a unilateralist foreign policy, exemplified by then-US president George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and then-US president Barack Obama’s 2011 overthrow of Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.

Although Trump has not (yet) toppled a regime, he has taken the approach of assertive unilateralism several steps further, waging a multipronged assault on the international order.

Almost immediately upon entering the White House, Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an ambitious 12-country trade and investment agreement brokered by Obama.

Soon after, Trump rejected the Paris climate agreement, with its aim to keep global temperatures “well below” 2°C above preindustrial levels, making the US the only country not participating in that endeavor.

More recently, Trump moved the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite a broad international consensus to determine the contested city’s status within the context of broader negotiations on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As the embassy was opened, Palestinian residents of Gaza escalated their protests demanding that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to what is now Israel, prompting Israeli soldiers to kill at least 62 demonstrators and wound more than 1,500 others at the Gaza boundary fence.

Trump shoulders no small share of the blame for these casualties, not to mention the destruction of the US’ traditional role as a mediator of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The same will go for whatever conflict and instability arises from Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, despite Iran’s full compliance with its terms.

Trump’s assault on the rules-based order extends also — and ominously — to trade. While Trump has blinked on China by putting on hold his promised sweeping tariffs on Chinese imports to the US, he has attempted to coerce and shame US allies like Japan, India and South Korea, even though their combined trade surplus with the US — US$95.6 billion last year — amounts to about a quarter of China’s.

Trump has forced South Korea to accept a new trade deal and has sought to squeeze India’s important information technology industry — which generates about US$150 billion in output per year — by imposing a restrictive visa policy.

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