The US-China strategic relationship, arguably the most important in the world at this time, has regained its footing after some anxiety brought on by the ascension of Donald Trump as US President last January, according to the Chief US Representative of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business.
Mary Darby said in remarks to a forum on ‘China in the World Order’ at Princeton University that there has been “a remarkable consistency of American policy” since the opening to China was initiated under the administration of then president Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.
“Just before Trump took office, there were concerns from many of us as to whether this would continue,” Darby, who worked in China and Asia for more than 25 years, said.
“We all remember Trump’s original hardline approach to China which included his inflammatory comments about China on trade so that some were worried about a trade war if he indeed labelled China a currency manipulator and imposed a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports,” she added.
Darby has served as Executive Director of the American-China Society, a non-profit organization devoted to the promotion of ties between the two countries and is chaired by a pair of former Secretaries of State, Kissinger and the late Cyrus Vance.
A fluent Mandarin speaker, Darby founded Peridot Asia Advisors, an advisory firm. She has substantial experience negotiating market entry strategies in dealing with China financial institutions, state-owned enterprises, regulatory authorities, and other government entities which regulate or supervise the insurance and banking industries in the country.
On the sensitive issue of Taiwan, Darby said the call by Trump to the leader of the island, Tsai Ing-wen, was interpreted by some as marking a change in America’s one-China policy.
“Some saw it as a possible bargaining chip to seek concessions from China on other key fronts, while others interpreted it as coming close to breaching the Shanghai Communique negotiated by Kissinger,” she said in alluding to the document signed by both nations that enshrined the underpinning of the normalization of China-U.S. relations.
Professor Rory Truex, assistant professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton, said the Alumni Faculty Forum (AFF) would help crystalize some of the developments which have taken place in China the past few years.
“Can we expect China to play a cooperative and constructive role in world affairs moving forward? Has China’s global role changed due to recent developments in American politics?” Truex asked.
The dual concerns – what Trump would do for US-China relations and what would be Beijing’s global role – were settled in part by the Citrus Summit between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in the state of Florida in early April.
Darby said the summit was viewed by both nations “to be very successful.”
To list off some of the things agreed upon, they include a commitment by Trump to visit China in 2017, senior level dialogues were restructured, a process set up to tackle economic frictions, and an agreement reached to coordinate actions on North Korea which has steadily defied U.N. sanctions to halt its nuclear and missile testing program among others.
More vitally, a personal chemistry was established between Xi and Trump and the one-China policy was affirmed, she said, adding the Chinese market was also reopened to more US pork, beef, soybean and movie imports.
Both sides also reached a deal to come up with a plan in 100 days for the broad agreements forged during the summit to be implemented.
“The second point I would like to discuss (is) how China and the U.S. are alike and yet different in the formulation of foreign policy. The most important point in how they are alike is the understanding domestic attitudes are critical to foreign policy,” she explained to the AFF forum.
Xi must contend with keeping a “stable relationship” with the upcoming 19th Communist Party Congress set for later in the year.
“With the economy weakening off a 30 year straight run of 10 percent or greater growth, no longer is foreign policy kept in a low profile.”
China may now appear to be seeking a larger role on the international stage such as the initiative to establish the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
In contrast, Trump’s ‘America First’ mantra emphasizes the importance and primacy of US concerns and this has led in part to Washington “pulling out of international accords.”
Within days of taking over, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and is now in the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
“It is worthwhile here to note the vast difference in political leadership experience between Xi and Trump. Xi was born into a political family and has been in politics for over 35 years with experience in outward looking provinces. Trump has no political experience. Both are viewed in some ways at home as disrupters,” Darby declared.
The third point she raised is the question of how much will China abide by international norms. Whether it is the WTO or the newly set up AIIB, China “both integrates and challenges” rules when it initially joins these international institutions, she said. “As we all know, China refused to participate in the arbitral proceeding brought by the Philippines against China over the South China Sea. The Chinese have condemned the International Court of Arbitration’s decision.”
Despite the recent concerns, the relationship between the two powers is still thriving.
“I am very optimistic about the US-China relationship and the importance of it,” Darby said.