President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping to express New Year’s wishes, and to say that he looks forward to working with Chairman Xi in promoting constructive bilateral relations. China's Foreign Ministry gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up to Trump’s expression of holiday respects to both Xi Jinping and the Chinese people. Mutual respect and win-win cooperation is the only real choice for the two countries, and Trump’s expression of goodwill should be welcomed on the part of China. Trump took office in the wake of a bawdy demonstration of his “rules are made to be broken” style, and time and time again he has taken the hard-line approach toward Sino-U.S. relations, which has left the rest of the world biting its nails wondering what the prospects of Sino-American relations may be.
China and America are the two most powerful individual economies in the current global village paradigm, and the interests of the two are tightly interwoven; the state of relations between the two literally influences the prosperity and stability of the entire world. China is willing to maintain good relations with the United States, but has enough power to go toe-to-toe with the U.S. if it is ever challenged. China wants President Trump to exercise caution in all his dealings, and act responsibly in advancing the healthy development of Sino-US relations and to refrain from pushing the two into a sticky situation in which neither side benefits, and both sides suffer.
During the Chinese New Year, each and every past leader of the free world has paid holiday respects to the Chinese people via a friendly phone call, with the exception of Mr. Trump, who broke this longstanding precedent. Be that as it may, since Trump took office, the White House has been extremely active in foreign affairs, and though the highest leadership in both China and the U.S. have exchanged pleasantries over the phone, given Trump’s “historic” telephonic discussions with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, compounded with the fact that Trump has insinuated the U.S. will cut off trade dealings with China, America needs to look in the mirror and ask itself if it is still complying with the “One China” doctrine.
As we know from many such cases, concerns about the state of Sino-U.S. relations and whether or not relations will retrogress are certain to occur. This time around, Trump’s letter to the Chinese president expressing his holiday wishes to the Chinese people and his hope of further developing constructive relations with China was a bit belated. There is a local Cantonese idiom that goes, “Ci Dou Hou Gwo Mou Dou,” which roughly translates to, “better late than never.” President Trump’s letter should be viewed as a goodwill gesture toward China and a good sign with a certain symbolic significance that positive Sino-American relations are still ahead.
Whether or not Trump's belated letter of good wishes for a festive New Year signifies a turn in Sino-U.S. relations from cloudy and murky to sunny and cheery is unfortunately quite uncertain. In campaigning for the office of commander in chief, Trump decried China as a “currency manipulator” that is “stealing American industry,” and the attitude toward China of the national security team he assembled after assuming office has been colored in palpably hawkish overtones, especially from his newly minted National Security Council and the White House National Trade Council, whose spearheads are pointed straight at China’s gullet from every possible direction. An even greater threat is Trump’s desire to brand China as a “currency manipulator” and slap Chinese commodities with hefty import tariffs. Trump appointed Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has long maintained a hardline stance of checking and rebalancing China, and the motivation behind his choosing to visit Korea and Japan is self-evident.
To repay the voters who put him in office, since his ascension Trump has put forth a series of highly controversial policies that have led to widespread dispute and suspicion. And who can say for certain that, after some time Trump won’t try to divert the public’s attention by waving the banner of “fair trade,” “currency manipulation,” and “the South China Sea dispute,” in order to get China into hot water. Whether Trump sincerely wants to bring real and tangible benefit to Sino-U.S. relations … well, to answer that question we must first keep our eyes and ears open.
President Xi Jinping noted that China and America have a heavy burden on their shoulders in maintaining world peace and stability, and promoting the development of progress and prosperity, President Xi Jinping noting also that the two have a wide array of common interests. The two nations are extraordinary in many similar ways: their economies represent one-third of world economic productivity; their nations represent one-fourth of the world population and one-fifth of its total trade. Bilateral trade between China and America tops $5,000 billion per year, and in 2015 China became the largest trade partner of the United States.
And then there is the little matter of China still holding over $1 billion worth of U.S. treasury bonds. Sino-U.S. relations can promote stable and healthy development only at such time as there is no conflict or rivalry, and when there is mutual respect, cooperation and a win-win attitude between them. If the United States antagonizes China and attempts to completely suppress it economically and militarily, then it will invite future global disaster–but it looks like America is content to cut off its nose to spite its face. A headline in Fortune magazine pointed out, “It won’t be easy for Trump to bully China.” While the article itself points out, “…if the world's two largest economies get into a mutually destructive economic confrontation, the real question won't be who has the biggest GDP, but which country has the highest threshold for pain.”
In a complex and ever changing geopolitical landscape, the government of China is ever more mature and confident, with more concentrated strategic ingenuity. It’s quite easy to predict that, in the early days of Trump’s ascension to politics’ highest seat, Sino-U.S. relations may take some twists and turns, and even a nasty beating or two, but the development of positive and constructive Sino-U.S. relations still represents the general trend, and fits in snuggly with America’s national interests, while a no-win situation is something that the vast majority of the wise and sagacious in America absolutely do not want to see made manifest. There’s no doubt that President Trump is going to understand the extreme importance of Sino-U.S. relations more clearly.