“Arabella” Diplomacy


Ivanka Trump’s daughter, Arabella sang a song, recited the 3-character primer, and a Tang Dynasty poem in Chinese for President Xi Jingping and Madame Peng Liyuan.

It is going viral in China.

Forty-five years ago, an historic breakthrough in US-China relations was achieved through the Nixon visit to Beijing. It was dubbed the “Pingpong” diplomacy. The Xi-Trump summit attempted to chart the new course of US-China relations to new heights in the next forty-five years. If successful, it might be dubbed “Arabella” diplomacy, as it all began with a visit by her and her mother to the Chinese New Year party reception at the Chinese Embassy in D.C.

Roadmap Adopted
In the main, the Xi-Trump summit went according to China’s script. The main objective — strengthening trust and understanding — seemed to be achieved. As expected, China did not make any concession or trade with Trump. Trump good-humouredly said “I got nothing, absolutely nothing”, which is not true.

The two sides went into much depth discussing a wide range of issues for over 7 hours. The Chinese elaborated on the principles and rationales guiding the New Relations, and the two sides “synchronized their clocks” on them. They agreed that trade imbalance and the Korean Peninsula are the major serious problems that must be addressed urgently. Moreover, they agreed to cooperate in managing differences on issues and functions across the board, over the long-term. To that end, as Trump told the press at the conclusion of the formal sit-down meeting, multiple one-on-one matched ministerial and functional task forces are being set up to work on them on an ongoing basis.

That is just the beginning. The two sides effectively adopted a new Roadmap to broaden and deepen their dialogue process and develop formal and informal mechanisms to manage risks.

Four-pillared Mechanism
The initial design is dubbed a “four-pillared” mechanism. They are (1) Foreign policy and national security, (2)Economic, trade and investments, (3) Law enforcement and cybersecurity, (4) Social and cultural exchanges. They are all directly reporting to the heads-of-state, without layers upon layers of bureaucracy. That way, instructions, decisions and agreements by Xi and Trump, and actions and implementation by the respective units of government will be swift and streamlined.

(That is the theory and intent, anyway.)

The summit has set the proper tone. Step by step, in stages, I will elaborate on how to kick-start the discussions and exchanges, so as to achieve the maximum and optimal win-win cooperative results. These documents will start circulating soon.

Reality Checks
(a)Trump’s team is hopelessly under-staffed. Of the four pillars, only (1) and (2)can be launched at this stage. Under each pillar, many more working groups and sub-task forces will have to be formed. For example, under (1), a military-to-military dialogue is set up;underneath that, I am sure there is something set up to monitor the Korean situation. Very soon, I hope there will be a group to focus on arms development and transfinite warfare. Under (2), there is a pledge to produce results on trade rebalancing within 100 days. Other sub-groups should be finalizing the Bilateral Investment Treaty(BIT)and, as I will strongly advocate, a group including the FED should start work on a framework on currency and monetary cooperation between China and the US.

The workload is immense. The available resources on the American side are hugely inadequate. Trump has also effectively placed the large number of existing groups working under the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in limbo, at least as far as the future of the US staff is concerned. The Chinese will presumably provide the continuity until the American side finishes its “firing and hiring” soup operas. In reality, the Trump team will likely be swarmped with a crisis-to-crisis operation (what we used to call the “Curly Shuffle” at JP Morgan of old). Hopefully, the Chinese will do the make-up homework to make some progress possible.

(b)Trump described his relationship with Xi Jingping as “outstanding” (hyper-ventilate …) , that he would like to visit China ASAP and look forward to meeting Xi “frequently” (now you can’t be serious, really?) Really.

Xi stated that there are one thousand reasons to develop friendly relations, and not one good reason for hostile relations. The obejective of the leaders on both sides should be is to bring about benefits for the well-being of all of their citizens. That is the joint responsibilty of the presidents. What is good for the people of the US and China, is also good for the world.

These two are very different personalities. Their self-actualizing missions in life are almost diametrical opposites. Their working styles and approaches are vastly incongruent. Xi’s methodology cannot be more foreign to Trump, and vice versa. Maybe this is the Ying-Yang match? At least nothing went wrong with the handshakes (the Chinese did a thorough analysis on Trump’s handshakes, and I learned something very interesting). This coupling of characters seems to come right out of kung-fu novels. We shall see.

(c)The Chinese are well aware of the fragility of Trump’s hold onto office. They also know , as I had pointed out, that Trump is erratic and not a person to be trusted. That is why all along they were aiming to establish institutionalized structures and functioning processes that will carry on regardless of presidential administration and congressional control. Even though there will be ups and downs, crises and moratoria, there will also be quick and natural restoration and resumption of cooperative relations after inevitable disruptions. We are trying to design something that will endure, and make the Founding Fathers of both countries proud. As in the “Pingpong” diplomacy, the relations between the two countries developed robustly even though Nixon, its American architect, had to resign.

(d)Conversation Between Chickens and Ducks — I would be the first to point out that a dialogue between the US and Chinese officials is like a conversation between chickens and ducks. (I should know that because I speak both chicken and duck equally well, and have lived and worked extensively among both.) The language barrier is not only due to imperfection in translation. The same exact words, for example, mutual respect, can be taken by each side to mean very different things. That is why they will invariably freak each other out periodically, and the scene can gets tense, if not ugly.

But like chickens and ducks that conversed with one another continuously, they will grow to know each other’s language and, more importantly, able to anticipate and accommodate each other’s quirks and qualms. But do expect feathers to fly, and beware of an occasional fox and weasel, here and there.

(e)Differences — We must not forget, in the temporary high, that differences and disputes between the two countries are real, many, sharp, complicated and often pressing. The undying US Cold War mentality and popular indoctrination will cause emotional flareups and dangerous miscalculations, and corresponding Chinese reactions. It is destined to be a tragi-comedy. Therefore, expectations must not be too high. That is why Xi Jingping stressed that the main focus of the new Roadmap is to control and manage such flareups. Otherwise, like steady marathon runners, the two sides will accomplish a great journey by keeping a quiet and steadfast rythm. Xi quoted Lao Tzu: “To journey afar, look to the feet on the ground”, meaning one step at a time.

Alaska Visit
On their way back to China, Xi’s delegation deliberately chose to stop over in Anchorage for refueling. Meeting with Alaska’s governor, Xi pointed out the tremendous complementarity between a resource-rich state like Alaska and China. To reverse a widening US trade deficit, Alaskans should work with China. Alaska is a good example for mutual opportunities and an immediate beneficiary if it works hard with its Chinese counterparts.

China is genuine in its desire to reduce its trade surplus with the US, and tries to point to examples of ready opportunities. It is urging the US Congress to lift ridiculous restrictions on China’s purchase of US goods. Xi Jingping formally invited the US to join in the One Belt One Road initiative so that US companies will get to sell their products and services. Trump has referred that to Wilbur Ross, who will hopefully not block everything until he gets China to buy coal from America.

As if the world does not have enough problems already.

Vertical Strategic Option
The breakthrough of the current “Arabella” diplomacy activated what I call a vertical strategic option between the two leading countries of the world(to be explained in another post)that will affect the strategic plans of every other country in the world. It reshuffles the deck and practically everyone will have to adapt.

In my Roadmap, I described this US-China move as the best way forward for a polycentric world by giving it a main axis, about and around which to built stability and order. A healthy comprehensive and win-win cooperative partnership between the US and China will hopefully reorient the world toward development, instead of war.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: