After federal judges blocked the immigrant and refugee ban on multiple occasions, Donald Trump’s other ultimatum, his pledge to replace Barack Obama’s health care law with “Trumpcare,” has been withdrawn amid Republican doubts after not receiving enough support from members of Congress—yet another broken promise made during the election campaign. Some think that for Trump, whose party is in complete control of the government, to repeatedly have such devastating setbacks is an indication of turmoil within the Republican Party, while some people blame it on Trump’s incompetence. However, it is more likely a result of resistance between “two Americas” (a great America and a little America). No matter what issue Trump discusses, whether immigration and refugee issues, national security, world trade, the environment, or anything else, he is at odds with popular opinion in the United States and even Europe, so it is obviously inevitable that resistance between two Americas should develop. (Popular polls currently show that more than half of all Americans do not support “Trumpcare.”) A more serious issue is that Trump’s policies toward China since taking office with no political experience demonstrate that there are also “two Trumps.”
“Trump Number One” particularly criticizes the trade profits of China out of all the countries in the world. He says that China is taking advantage of the United States, rigging its exchange rate, and engaging in unfair trade. He has even rebelliously stirred the waters with his comment that the One China policy would be “open to negotiation.” But “Trump Number Two” is, conversely, extraordinarily friendly to China, emphasizing that he will “respect our One China policy.” He has also agreed to a meeting between himself and President Xi in April, and is preparing to receive Xi at his private estate.* (By comparison, the first meeting between Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on March 17 was at the White House, not his private estate, and whenever either of them spoke, their attitude was cold and unnatural—it could even be said that they “parted on bad terms.”)
Furthermore, the talk about China rigging its exchange rate has suddenly subsided. The evening before U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was to carry out his first visit to Asia after taking office, it was unexpectedly revealed at a press conference with State Department official Susan Thornton that, regarding the 2012 American strategy known as “Rebalance to Asia,” a policy of the Obama administration, the Trump administration would use a different formulation, no longer using words such as “rebalance” and “pivot.” (These two words had always had their share of criticism from the Chinese Communist Party, which developed a hostile attitude toward Hillary Clinton and a preference for Trump to win the election because of them.) Tillerson’s words and actions during his visit were even further outside of anyone’s expectations—he said that U.S.-China relations had been open for more than 40 years and had built a positive relationship based on “non-confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and always searching for win-win solutions,” and that going forward, the leaders of the two countries should employ dialogue and joint understanding to usher in the next 50 years of U.S.-China relations.
Tillerson’s claims and choice of wording are almost an exact repeat of Xi Jinping’s word choice in calling for the U.S. and China to “form a new pattern of relationship between great powers,” and is also a covert recognition of the Chinese Communist Party’s idea of “joint control by China and the U.S.” (That is, its idea of China and the U.S. supporting one another’s presence in the Asia Pacific). No wonder both the United States and its allies in East Asia are deeply anxious.
Evan Medeiros, Asia Chief on the National Security Council during the Obama era, has stated that the Obama administration deliberately avoided using the same words as China, since this would imply that the U.S. accepted China’s definition of U.S.-China relations. He also noted that restating China’s words would strengthen China’s stance, as well as suggest that they can mold and change the United States. Because of this, Medeiros cautioned, “Taiwan should worry about the Trump administration’s capricious attitude toward America’s Taiwan policy. Does Trump in the end see Taiwan as a lasting interest? Or does he just see it as a bargaining chip, which he would give away in an instant in exchange for China’s cooperation on the North Korea issue?”
The Trump administration actually carried out many actions around the time of Tillerson’s trip to East Asia. The evening before Tillerson was to visit Beijing, American media reported that, after the meeting between Trump and Xi, the Trump administration might sell bigger and better weapons to Taiwan. This clearly raised the stakes of Tillerson’s negotiations with Beijing. After Tillerson returned to the United States, foreign news agencies reported that in order to be able to both personally receive Xi Jinping on his visit to the U.S. and to visit Russia, Tillerson decided not to attend what would have been his first meeting of NATO foreign ministers. This demonstrates that the Trump administration views U.S.-China relations as more important than U.S.-NATO relations. Two days later, foreign media reported that the Beijing embassies of 11 countries of Europe, the Americas and Japan jointly signed a letter criticizing China’s practice of extorting confessions by torture from lawyers as well as detaining civil and military personnel without rights, but that the U.S. president had refused to sign. This also demonstrates that the Trump administration does not want to worsen U.S.-China relations ahead of the meeting between Trump and Xi.
Will “Trump Number One” gradually be changed and overpowered by the other Trump? Some think that the former is his ideal self (“ideal self” does not have to mean his most idealistic self; it could also mean his self that best appeals to populism or to religious fundamentalism), whereas the latter is his actual self. Some people think that Trump is using “monarchical trickery” to make different political factions compete with one another, ensuring that no one faction will feel too secure about always being in his good graces. Yet “monarchical trickery” seems too exaggerated of an expression, only suited to strongman leader types, not to business leader types like Trump. For example, only two weeks ago, the media released the staggering news of the occurrence within the White House of “infighting among trade advocates.” Steve Bannon of the populist faction (which is vehemently anti-businessman) and Peter Navarro were at virtual war with Gary Cohn of the New York moderate faction (which is more tolerant of businessmen). The latter won while Navarro lost, while some foreign officials who originally took Navarro’s side started out in agreement with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, only to move toward the internal faction more tolerant of businessmen.
At the same time, it is important not to forget that Kushner and Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka, hold influential positions at Trump’s side — Trump does not avoid “administration through family ties” in the least — and the whole family’s business interactions with China long ago attracted everyone’s attention. Ivanka once took her daughter to participate in a Spring Festival party at the U.S. Chinese Embassy. Kushner has close business relations with the Anbang Insurance Group. He accompanied Tillerson on his recent visit to Beijing, a move allegedly related to the upcoming meeting between Trump and Xi. It’s also been said that the practice of referring to the meeting between Trump and Xi as the “fourth China-U.S. joint communiqué” stems from Kushner’s relationship with Henry Kissinger. It also goes without saying that, with the sale of Trump’s childhood mansion in New York to a person affiliated with China’s influential officials, China has basically just “approved all at once” Trump’s 38 trademark applications to it. It would be difficult for anyone whose ideals encountered these kinds of real-life “trials” not to waver. What’s more, Trump’s entire family are old hands at markets and newbies at politics!
The opposition between the “two Americas” directly relates to the rise or fall of American idealism and its superpower status. A little America absolutely cannot undertake the global responsibility of a great America. Furthermore, the growth or decline of the “two Trumps” directly relates to Taiwan’s safety. Although Thornton, acting assistant secretary in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, briefly reported on Tillerson’s visit to Asia at a foreign press conference, saying that America’s One China policy is the result of the third China-U.S. joint communiqué and the Taiwan Relations Act, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randall Schriver led a delegate group to visit Taiwan, indicating that the U.S. and China did not have plans to sign a fourth U.S.-China joint communiqué. In addition, no matter the outcome of the meeting between Trump and Xi, the United States will underscore its One China Policy, including the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances. However, China is not the United States. If the Chinese Communist Party can cause the other Trump to overpower “Trump Number One,” will this party with its extensive magical powers also care about trivial little Taiwan?
*Editor’s note: This article was published prior to Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 6 and April 7.
The author is a commentator on current affairs.