U.S. President-elect Donald Trump has accused China of manipulating exchange rates and depriving the United States of jobs. At the same time, Trump has suggested that he will delegate the responsibility for resolving the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons development to China. As such, the president-elect does not seem to be highly interested in security in Asia.
The future of U.S.-China relations will have a huge impact on international politics and the world economy. Trump should calmly formulate policy toward China and have dialogue with the country without lapsing into extreme arguments.
China is the largest trading partner for the United States, larger than Canada and Mexico. China holds a larger amount of U.S. government bonds than any other country. The United States appears to have closer economic relations with China than Japan, although Washington is criticizing Beijing over the huge U.S. trade deficit with China just like in the Japan-U.S. trade friction in the 1980s.
If the next U.S. administration to be led by Trump were to levy high import tariffs on Chinese products, Beijing would retaliate by imposing punitive tariffs on U.S. products, developing into a possible trade dispute. Such a dispute would not only hurt both sides but also deal a serious blow to the international economy as a whole.
If the United States were to break away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, it would benefit China because the United States would lose its leadership in creating new trade rules.
Trump's introspective unilateralism is also reflected in his view on security policy. His demand that Japan and South Korea fully foot the costs of stationing U.S. troops in their territories could lead to the weakening of the U.S. alliance with these countries. Such a situation would also work favorably for China, which has criticized the military alliances as outdated.
Trump has said that his government will deploy troops to the East and South China seas and demonstrate its military power to China in a bid to secure an advantageous position in bilateral trade talks. However, Washington should rather urge Beijing to respect the rule of law, such as by guaranteeing free navigation and abiding by the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.
A series of remarks Trump has made publicly do not show his willingness to respect universal values such as human rights and democracy. He is not enthusiastic about addressing environmental problems, either. If the United States' moral leadership were to be lost, more countries would consider approaching China.
Trump has refrained from making ill-considered remarks since he was elected president in an apparent bid to correct his radical position. It is hoped that Trump's extreme policies will be modified if members of the Republican Party's mainstream faction join his administration.
However, the outlook for the U.S.-China relationship remains unclear. Some aides to Trump are now insisting that the United States should participate in the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, while calling for a hard-line stance toward China.
In his first telephone talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump was quoted as saying that the United States and China can build a win-win relationship. However, Trump has apparently not mapped out a comprehensive policy toward China.
China should avoid any provocative acts that could appear to be testing U.S. responses, and instead create an environment for calm dialogue.
The future of U.S.-China relations will have a crucial impact on Japan. To help these two countries build a good relationship under the leadership of Trump, Japan should sufficiently communicate with China while conveying Japan's position and views to Trump and his staff.