Thursday, November 24, 2016

Will Trump’s Love of Deals Work With China?

A president known for deal-making could change the landscape in East Asia

SHANGHAI—As North Korea accelerates its ballistic missile and nuclear testing, hastening the day it can threaten to turn Seattle into ashes, U.S. options range from terrible to nightmarish.
The path to a solution—if one exists at all—leads through Beijing, Pyongyang’s main sponsor.
Is there a Grand Bargain to be made?
Soon, we’ll have a brash negotiator in the White House in place of the cautious, cerebral Barack Obama. “I like making deals, preferably big deals,” Donald Trump writes in the opening chapter of “Trump: The Art of the Deal.” “That’s how I get my kicks.” Should he bring these entrepreneurial instincts to the presidency, it would not only change the way America and China conduct business but potentially remake the East Asian landscape.
Within academic and think-tank circles, discussion of a sweeping settlement between the U.S. superpower and its Chinese challenger has picked up as tensions build in the South China Sea.
North Korea is a possible catalyst, if not for a comprehensive bargain then at least for a broad discussion about the shape of regional security. Mr. Obama stressed “strategic patience” as Pyongyang pursued its nuclear ambitions. Mr. Trump will face a moment of decision when North Korea acquires the ability to strike the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Writing before the election, Amitai Etzioni, a professor of international relations at George Washington University, suggested a trade-off in which China agrees to twist Pyongyang’s arm over its nuclear program in return for Washington accepting greater Chinese influence in its immediate neighborhood.
His university colleague, Charles L. Glaser, proposes that America drop its commitment to defend Taiwan—the thorniest issue in U.S.-China relations—in exchange for China’s agreeing to peacefully resolve island disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea.
Even more imaginatively, Hugh White, professor of strategic studies at Australian National University, envisages an arrangement in which U.S. primacy gives way to joint regional management along with China, Japan and India. Others recommend that America march its troops off the Korean Peninsula, or sail its fleets away from Japan.
What all these ideas have in common is a belief that without significant American concessions to Beijing’s regional aspirations the risks of conflict will escalate.
The direction of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy is uncertain. He’s threatened to launch a trade war with China. And he plans a massive investment in the Navy, including aircraft carriers, the spearhead of U.S. projection of force in East Asia. That looks more like a strategy to contain China. Or are these just the opening moves in a marathon negotiation?
The first offer is already on the table. James Woolsey, a former CIA director and a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, has declared that the U.S. is ready to assure Beijing it won’t pursue the overthrow of the Chinese political and social systems “in exchange for China’s commitment not to challenge the status quo in Asia.”
Beijing likely won’t engage on that one; it considers the current state of affairs, underpinned by U.S. military alliances, to be an intolerable Cold War relic designed to throttle its rise.
Still, China is convinced that America wants to subvert the Communist regime through support for political dissidents, student activists in Hong Kong and separatists in Tibet, and it will welcome a White House that spends less time lecturing on human rights.
Some Chinese analysts calculate that Mr. Trump will be more focused on fixing America’s domestic economic problems than pushing ideological values abroad. Writing in an opinion piece in the New York Times, Eric X. Li, a Shanghai-based entrepreneur and political scientist, argues that Sino-U.S. relations may take an initial nose-dive under Mr. Trump on trade but then recover “as the Chinese prefer a relationship with a United States that doesn’t try to remake the world.”
Yet if Mr. Trump intends a more adventurous style of international diplomacy, he’s weakened his position with Beijing from the outset.
Allies are alarmed by his “America First” rhetoric. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe rushed to Mr. Trump’s gilded Manhattan penthouse last week to meet the real-estate magnate who has spent three decades berating his country as a freeloader. The move suggested great concern the two countries’ security alliance was in jeopardy. Mr. Abe came away saying that Mr. Trump was a man inspiring “great confidence.”
Of course, the region’s balance could be upended if Mr. Trump pursues the trade war with China that he has threatened. And he may have lost more leverage by pledging to walk away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a giant U.S.-led free-trade deal—a promise that has recharged regional interest in China-backed trade initiatives.
As American influence wanes in East Asia, expect more countries to follow the Philippines and Malaysia and jump on the Beijing bandwagon. Dealing with an America that since World War II has stood steadfastly behind its friends—and values—has suddenly become a lot less predictable.

By Andrew Browne


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