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Master class: how China has stolen US thunder on world stage

China’s diplomacy is on a roll. Donald Trump is right when he declares that US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is in shambles and that China is eating America’s lunch.

Tensions in the South China Sea were reaching dangerous levels this summer, especially when the Philippines won a landmark judgment at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. All that changed when Rodrigo Duterte became president. Suddenly, he starts singing the same tune as Beijing, saying bilateral talks, rather than international arbitration, are the best way to address the “differences” between the countries.

Whether by design or inadvertently, Duterte might have pulled rival claimants in the South China Sea from the brink, or at least lowered the tensions to such an extent that the US felt the need to send a destroyer to the Paracel Islands chain to keep up the heat. Funny how China is usually the one accused of being ham-fisted in its diplomacy!

On the religious front, the Vatican and the world’s largest atheist state are about to finalise a deal on the ordination of bishops in China this month, a move that will end a long-standing dispute and may well lead to formal diplomatic relations. This will spell trouble for Taiwan, as the Vatican is one of the few states that formally recognises the island.

China, Philippines to set up negotiation mechanism to resolve South China Sea disputes

By contrast, Obama’s master trade plan to isolate China is about to die a quick death. One of the few things that US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Trump can agree on is how fast he or she will kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal when one of them becomes president. But Obama’s greatest embarrassment has been his heavy-handed attempt to pressure allies not to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Britain, Australia, France, Israel, Germany and now Canada practically jumped over each other to join. Indeed, Britain and now Canada have hailed a new “golden era” in relations between their countries and China.

According to a hacked email released by WikiLeaks, Clinton said President Xi Jinping (習近平) was a better politician than predecessor Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). She is right. And he has outmanoeuvred Obama time and again, and will do so again with Madame President Clinton.

Oh the irony! While Trump publicly professes admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Clinton secretly acknowledges Xi to be a good state leader.