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Ignoring China cannot make US great again

By Patrick Mendis | China Daily | Updated: 2017-01-26 07:30

Ignoring China cannot make US great again

US President Donald Trump shows the Executive Order withdrawing the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after signing it in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, USA, January 23, 2017. [Photo/IC]

President Donald Trump's often changing foreign policy positions and unorthodox diplomatic exchanges have made the United States an unpredictable partner in international affairs, especially in Sino-US relations and Pacific affairs.

"The indispensable nation" appears to be isolating itself from international trade relations. Trump terminated the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement on his first day in the White House.

Ending the TPP trade pact means China can expand its domain of influence in the Pacific Rim region as other US allies and friends inevitably look for a more reliable trade partner in the neighborhood. As these geopolitical realities set in, will his campaign promises to "Make America Great Again" eventually default to "Making China Great Again" and make the US a dispensable nation?

China is taking note that the "declining" US is giving up on its founding trade vision and empowering it with China's commercial mission through the Belt and Road Initiative. At the 21-member Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders' Meeting in Peru last November, President Xi Jinping reaffirmed that China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations would indeed invite the TPP member-nations to join the Beijing-supported Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

Acknowledging the kiss of death the Trump administration would give the TPP, former president Barack Obama warned of the detrimental impact on the US economy of a protectionist president in the White House, but also on the US' credibility around the world. Cancelling the colossal 12-nation Pacific Rim trade pact and even renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement are not panaceas for the US' social decay, racial tension, and economic problems, which are largely attributable to technological advancements, demographic changes, corporate strategies and taxation structures.

It is likely Trump's on-the-job-training will soon bring awareness that the checks-and-balances in the US political system mean running the country is different from running a private enterprise.

Nevertheless, Trump and his team will certainly change course, especially in dealing with China.

Like his other incendiary rhetoric during the presidential campaign, Trump has accused Beijing of being responsible for "raping" the US with its trade policies. When he realizes the mutually beneficial trade relationship between China and the US is more complicated than that, Trump will have no choice but to strengthen the evolving China-US bond without losing out to the Chinese leadership and its rule-making power in the global trade architecture.

Ignoring China would be a mistake. The Sino-American relationship has been mutually beneficial for both countries. The Trump administration can hardly "Make America Great Again" without making "China Great Again".

The US still depends on the global supply chain. When the Trump administration begins to deal with other countries, the elephant at the table of every trade negotiation will be China.

The evolving multifaceted bilateral relationship is intrinsically complicated yet mutually beneficial for the US and China, which are connected through growing trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges. No matter what the Trump administration may have in store for China and the world, one thing can be predicted: the US must and will accept China's inevitable rise.

As a self-professed titan of deal-making, Trump could "Make America Great Again," by simply embracing the founding vision of Thomas Jefferson for political reasons: "Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none."

The author is an associate-in-research of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. The article is an excerpt of his commentary on chinausfocus.com

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