Donald Trump’s rise to power in Washington might inject some short-term uncertainty into Sino-US ties, but the Republican will put the bilateral relationship on a better track than rival Hillary Clinton would have, according to a senior Chinese defence adviser.
Retired major general Jin Yinan, a former director of the strategic research institute at the PLA’s National Defence University, said some Asian nations such as Japan and Singapore would push for the United States to maintain a strong presence in Asia, but Trump’s administration would focus on domestic issues and economic development.
Trump’s win on November 8 triggered concerns in the Asia-Pacific, especially among US allies, that Washington could retreat from the region, with Trump’s advisers saying the US has diverse interests and will abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal that excludes China.
In Hong Kong yesterday, Jin said China was likely to face less political and military pressure in the Asia-Pacific under Trump because the Republican would be less keen to interfere in global affairs.
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He said Trump was a straight-talker, and exchanges between the militaries of the two nations would not decline under the new administration.
“The policy initiatives of Clinton are obvious – that she would continue with pivoting to Asia and the TPP, encircling China politically and militarily, and isolating China economically,” Jin said.
“There may be uncertainties facing relations between China and the US in the short run, but from a medium- and long-term perspective, Sino-US ties will be better under Trump than [they would have been under] Clinton.”
He said China would not make major changes to its US strategy following Trump’s win, but Beijing expected a smoother roll-out for its “One Belt, One Road” initiative after Trump advisers said it was wrong for the US not to join the Beijing-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
That sentiment was in contrast to Trump’s threats on the campaign trail to name China as a currency manipulator, impose a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese products and even embark on a trade war with China.
Jin said he did expect the US to exert more economic pressure on China but there would be new avenues for cooperation as Trump focused more boosting economic development to unite American society.
Trump’s election pledge to “make America great again” centred mainly on rebuilding the US economy, while Clinton wanted Washington to show strength through interference in other nations’ affairs, Jin said. “Some people are concerned that Trump is against globalisation. But I believe his stance is more conducive to the true meaning of globalisation. It is not the kind of globalisation dominated by the US,” he said.
Jin said a Trump presidency would require Asian nations to adjust their engagement with China and the US. Asian nations, including Singapore, had pushed for the US to contain China, and turned South China Sea disputes into international issues.
“Small nations usually have to strike a balance between big powers to survive, but that doesn’t mean siding completely with a particular nation,” Jin said of Singapore. “That kind of strategy might need to change next year.”
Jin said the US might not be pushed to confront China because Americans realised the high cost of years of US involvement in global affairs. “Take a look at the Middle East, the situation there has become even more chaotic since US involvement,” he said.
He said a less-involved US would not create a security vacuum in the Asia-Pacific, because nations in the region could handle their own security.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first foreign leader to meet Trump, said he had “great confidence” in the US president-elect.