New Delhi (ABC Live): Trump China Visit : Today United States President Donald Trump is all set to meet with his Chinese counterpart second time in this year.
It is pertinent that Trump prematurely hosted Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort, in March, before U.S. policy toward China remained unformulated and uncoordinated.
In the absence of consistent China policy, much Trump administration officials have been hard-pressed to explain why the president is going to Beijing , whereas for China there are reasons to celebrate Trump’s Visit in adding one more feature in Xi cap who is coming off his coronation at the Communist Party as Trump’s visit will only help their cause.
First and foremost, Trump’s Beijing trip will service Xi’s domestic political interests, bolstering his image among the Chinese people as a co-equal of the American president.
It will also afford Xi the opportunity to flatter Trump and convince him that the United States should both accommodate China’s core interests and back away from any punitive or destabilizing measures on trade, North Korea, the South China Sea and Taiwan that would disrupt an otherwise healthy and positive U.S.-China relationship. Prospects for significant policy breakthroughs are slim to none.
The best the United States can hope for is that Trump departs China without doing significant damage to U.S. interests in the region. What this means in practice is that the guiding mantra for Trump’s November visit to Beijing should be the Hippocratic oath: Do no harm.
But how? While the U.S. has already lowered expectations to nearly zero for what it hopes to achieve, success will be measured by what Trump doesn’t do in Beijing. Here are seven major hazards to avoid:
- Don’t negotiate a joint statement: The single worst thing the Trump administration could do in Beijing would be to sign a joint declaration that hangs like an albatross on U.S.-Asia policy. The Chinese will surely try to pin Trump down on all sorts of symbolic platitudes, which—while seemingly harmless—would invariably be read throughout Asia as U.S. retreat and acquiescence. The Trump team isn’t going to outsmart the Chinese. Best not to try. Play it safe instead with a unilateral press statement.
- Don’t leave Trump alone with Xi: One-on-one leader meetings are traditionally an opportunity for U.S. presidents to deliver direct, sensitive messages to their counterparts. The operative term being: traditionally. In this case, as was true in Florida in March, such an engagement would leave Trump vulnerable to all sorts of personal and private influences that under no circumstance serve U.S. interests. Everything Xi says to Trump should have an audience, and vice versa.
- Don’t shy away from areas of friction: The principal failing of Trump’s approach to China has been his singular focus on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs at the expense of other vital U.S. interests. Trump himself has said repeatedly that he’s not going to give Xi a hard time on Taiwan or trade as long as China is helping to pressure Pyongyang. This is a tragic misunderstanding of what constitutes U.S. leverage and power in its relationship with China. Trump is far more likely to elicit Chinese cooperation on North Korea if America is seen as strong and principled, rather than wavering and willing to bargain away its interests for the right price. If the president wants to prove he’s tough on North Korea, he’ll need to be similarly so on the South China Sea, Taiwan and human rights. Failing to press Xi on these issues—both publicly and privately—would be read in China and throughout the region as U.S. weakness.
- Don’t overstate the wins: In March, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross trumpeted an early bilateral agreement on trade and investment—widely seen as low-hanging fruit—as a “Herculean accomplishment.” The Trump administration would be wise to avoid similar hyperbole when China inevitably offers up tasty “tweetables” on autos, liquefied natural gas, soybeans, financial services or whatever else Beijing has up its sleeve to assuage Trump. There is already a faction within the White House that wants to declare victory and go home, casting aside potential punitive measures on more consequential and fundamental issues associated with market access and industrial policy in China. Rather than overstating the importance of China’s long-overdue concessions, the best play for Trump would be to thank Xi for taking initial steps to create more equitable economic ties, and then quickly get back to demanding reciprocity across a much wider range of sectors and industries.
- Ditch the flattery: Trump has made a terrible habit of publicly fawning over Xi, referring to him as a “terrific guy” and a “great leader.” The jury is still out whether this is tactical brown-nosing or an actual authoritarian affinity. (Former White House adviser Steve Bannon recently provided evidence for the latter, telling a Hong Kong newspaper, “I don’t think there’s a world leader that President Trump respects more than the president of China.”) Regardless, Trump should be a gracious guest, but he should also be cognizant that his comments will air for weeks and months on Chinese propaganda in the service of strengthening Xi internally and diminishing the standing of the United States throughout Asia. Trump’s aides should explain the damaging effects of his public fealty to Xi.
- Leave “America First” at home: In part because the Trump administration has no theory of success in Beijing, his stop in China will be the least important of the five-country tour. Whether Trump gets China right will depend more on his ability during the other parts of his Asia swing to evince both an enduring commitment to America’s allies and a modicum of U.S. regional leadership. After what is likely to be a smooth stop in Japan, big risks await in South Korea given Trump’s previous comments disparaging the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement and accusing Seoul of appeasing North Korea and not pulling its weight in the alliance. Revising trade deals is fair game, but Trump’s visit to Seoul, much less in his speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, is neither the place nor the time to do it. Likewise, in Vietnam, particularly with Trump’s speech at the APEC CEO Summit, the adults in the administration will need to do some serious blocking and tackling to ensure that “America First” takes a backseat to what the White House itself previewed as the president’s goal to reaffirm “United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.” That’s a good message; stick to it.
- Don’t slouch: The Chinese will do everything humanly possible to prevent Trump from saying or doing anything extemporaneously. The symbols and messages of the visit will instead be conveyed through official photographs and tightly scripted press sprays. These will be important moments for Trump not to fall prey to China’s efforts to visually demean the U.S. president. Recall the favorite photo of China’s state-run media from Florida that captured an erudite Xi tutoring a diminished Trump slumped on a couch. Trump’s handlers should take care to avoid a repeat performance in front of the cameras. Instead, the president should give his “very good friend” one of those famous Trump-style tug-and-pull handshakes for all the world to see. That alone would make the trip a success.
NB: The article published on www.politico.com and written by Ely Ratner is the Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow in China studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He previously served as deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.