Trump swaps campaign anger for meek deference, signaling that China is supplanting the U.S. in the global order.
By Tony Burman
November 13, 2017 "Information Clearing House" - Hail, President Xi, Emperor of the World! Your time, it appears, has come.
Foreign policy experts thought it would take many more decades before this 21st century became the “Chinese century,” with China effectively supplanting the United States as the global leader. But Donald Trump has tricked us.
In a grovelling, fawning state visit to Beijing this week — during which Trump obtained no concessions from China on key issues such as North Korea or bilateral trade — the once-powerful president of the United States stumbled into a dramatic role reversal by emerging, incredibly, as a salivating supplicant to China’s President Xi Jinping.
This wasn’t what his supporters expected of him. Wasn’t it Trump who declared during his presidential campaign that the U.S. “cannot continue to allow China to rape our country.” Wasn’t it Trump who branded China as an “economic enemy,” accusing it of “the greatest theft in the history of the world.”
But not this week. Speaking at a joint appearance with the Chinese leader on Thursday, Trump lavished praise on Xi, calling him “a very special man” with whom he had “great chemistry.” He talked of the “absolutely terrific” dinner they had, and how much of a “very, very great honour” it was to be together with Xi.
He noted the wide trade imbalance between the two countries, but blamed past U.S. administrations “for having allowed it to get so far out of kilter.” Trump went on to stress: “I don’t blame China. Who can blame a country that is able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.”
As The New York Times noted, it was a “remarkable moment” in the modern history of U.S.-China relations in which Trump “projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president.” It was also notable that Xi, in response to Trump’s praise, didn’t reciprocate.
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It is no surprise that Trump left Beijing empty-handed. It was clear from the start that Chinese officials had no intention of conceding anything of substance to the U.S. president on issues such as North Korea or trade. But their calculation — a correct one, it turned out — was that Trump is a man who loves being charmed and flattered, and no one does this better than the Chinese.
Xi rolled out the red carpet when Trump and his wife arrived Wednesday. They were celebrated at an official dinner inside Beijing’s Forbidden City, an honour not granted to any U.S. president since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. China put on a military ceremony that featured soldiers swinging their guns in precision and hundreds of tiny children waving flags. Trump gushed afterward that this was “a truly memorable and impressive display.”
This comes at a time when “America First” under Trump is turning its back on global alliances and international trade agreements. He pulled the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. China is filling the vacuum.
Increasingly, Asian nations are beginning to look to Beijing, not to Washington, for leadership. And next week, in a followup meeting in Paris about the climate change agreement, it will be China, not the U.S., taking the lead.
What we seem to be witnessing is an extraordinary historical transition taking shape, step-by-step, as Trump unilaterally cedes American global leadership to China. If it continues, it will have implications for the rest of the century.
Actions have consequences, and these can be long lasting. It was 100 years ago this week that the Bolsheviks came to power in the October Revolution and established the Soviet Union. It was 100 years ago this year that the U.S. formally entered the First World War and began its road to global dominance.
A hundred years from now, what will historians make of the extraordinary impact that Donald Trump is having on 21st-century global politics?
Tony Burman is former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News. Reach him @TonyBurman or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally published by The Star -
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