During his upcoming visit to China, Donald Trump can reserve his place in history by initiating formal dialogue on two subjects with his Chinese counterpart. They are (a) currency and monetary cooperation framework, and (b) strategic arms limitation talks. He should bring up these subjects when he goes on the stroll one-on-one with Xi Jingping.
These subjects are complex and it will take time to produce concrete results, which may outlive Mr. Trump’s tenure. The mere existence of ongoing negotiation will go a long way toward the avoidance of war and the maintenance of a relatively peaceful, albeit delicate and volatile, balance in the world.
Things have progressed along my Roadmap on US-China Relations. However, in my opinion, America is running out of time. The goal-posts in US-China power balance are continuing to shift in China’s favor. To make America great again, one must grasp an historic moment of opportunity before reality worsens.
An Early Bird
Donald Trump will be the first major head-of-state to visit China after the 19th Party Congress. Despite being the first in line, he is still unfocused and not ready, perhaps because of domestic political distractions and other factors. Meanwhile, the goalposts have shifted significantly in US-China power balance, which makes the Roadmap process potentially smoother but at the same time more urgent for the Americans, even if they may not realise it.
In any case, China will try to help Trump refocus. Over the brief two-and-a-half days’ stay, he will be accorded the protocol of a “state visit – plus”, which means full military guards-of-honor, state dinner and formal talks. The “plus” will be kept a surprise, but will definitely include one-on-one strolls with Xi Jingping down history lane, and programs for the family and entourage to deepen their understanding of Chinese history and culture, and cultivate personal friendship.
The Immediate Issues
North Korea is a topmost issue. The two sides differ philosophically on how the nuclear issue is to be resolved. But lately, the diplomatic maneuvers to restart the six-party talk has regained momentum. China, however, sees another issue as equally repugnant — the installation of the THAAD system by the US in South Korea. That will trigger linkages with other issues in a negative way. It will affect security matters, but not expected to directly hamper trade and investment discussions for the moment.
As for results from the visit, there will be many. The Chinese will make sure of that. But whether there will be major breakthroughs in areas such as the BIT or energy deals depend on reciprocity. Donald should know by now that one-sided demands will not only get him nowhere with the Chinese, but also cost him in what the Chinese would have given otherwise.
Overall, the US side is not sufficiently prepared to be able to bring many matters to an effective and feasible conclusion. The Chinese will provide some giveaways to maintain positive momentum on the overall status of relations. Whether the results include what Trump most wants remain to be seen. But it will be up to the Americans to grasp the moment of history and think more expansively, as time continues to be on China’s side.
Perhaps Trump should take time out between tweets, and read the Roadmap again before landing in Beijing.
The Earlier Birds
There are Americans who beat Trump to China. This week, a group of American financial and IT leaders met with Xi Jingping in Beijing. They included former Goldman Sachs chairman and ex-US treasury secretary Henry Paulson, Stephen Schwarzman of Blackstone Group, ex-chairman of AIG Maurice Greenberg, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple, to name some. It sent a strong signal that China is working to open up some of those sectors with the cooperation of its American counterparts.
It looks like some birds may have caught worms already.