US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the recent G20 summit in Buenos Aires. Photo: AFP / Yomiuri Shimbun
US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 2018 G20 summit in Buenos Aires. Photo: AFP/Yomiuri Shimbun

In this contemporary era, the great powers carry a special burden of responsibility in determining the future of global politics. Therefore, it is worthwhile to track Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s policy agendas, which could help us analyze their behavior and potential measures vis-à-vis other countries.

Xi’s “China Dream” and Trump’s “America First” have some commonalities and differences that could influence the complicated and ambiguous trajectory of US and China. The two concepts have been considered the pillars of Chinese and US foreign policies. In fact they seek to encapsulate the long-cherished wishes and ambitions of both nations – reviving the greatness of their past, which makes theirs a unique state.

However, both Trump and Xi feel that the greatness of their respective countries has undergone a change. Therefore, they deem it necessary to take serious measures to revive their lost greatness. While Trump pursues unilateral, zero-sum and protectionist policies, Xi focuses on multilateral, win-win policies.

First of all, the “China Dream” and “America First” concepts should be defined. In March 2013, Xi said the “China Dream” was not only the dream of Chinese people that would provide them with a better and prosperous life, but also the dream of the other people in the world that would offer them “peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit.” Xi didn’t hesitate about connecting national and international boundaries and put emphasis on determining and shaping global landscape through cooperation and mutual respect within international rules and norms.

The scholar Jin Kai says “China Dream” refers to “Chinese people’s exploration of their own developmental model and their longing for a ‘great rejuvenation‘ of the Chinese nation.” He considers it “a vision for China itself, not a blueprint for overthrowing the US-led global system.”

According to its National Security Strategy 2017, the roots of American power lie in its past. The report reiterates that “the US was born of a desire for life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” Trump’s “America First” narrative focuses on protecting “the American people,” maintaining the US way of life, peace and prosperity, and increasing “American influence in the world.” He considers “economic security” as “national security.”

Trump’s “America First” policies were heavily influenced by his pro-business mentality. So he prioritizes economic issues, such as narrowing the trade deficit, in US-China relations. Furthermore, he believes that his economic pressure on China, such as waging a trade war, could resolve other contentious issues in Sino-US relations including cybersecurity and human-rights issues.

Patriotism and nationalism have reverberated in both Xi’s and Trump’s speeches. While Xi seeks to strike a balance in expressing his patriotic and globalist tendencies, Trump obviously voiced his patriotic stances in US foreign policies. A prime example was his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in 2018, in which he said, “America is governed by Americans. We reject the ideology of globalism and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism.”

Trump’s disdainful view of international treaties and organizations, originated from his “America First” policies, creates an atmosphere of mistrust toward US leadership in the world, which will consequently weaken the US position in the international system.

However, Xi’s “China Dream,” promoting cooperation, global prosperity and peace, will accentuate the position of China as the harbinger of global connectivity in the world. For instance, his Belt and Road Initiative, an unprecedented initiative in the history of globalization, underlines the same policies and aims to corroborate the vital role of China in the global governance. If Trump insists on unilateral “America First” policies, then the US will be isolated in the world order and the post-Cold War order will be reshaped – maybe this time by China and its allies.

Behzad Abdollahpour

Behzad Abdollahpour is an MA student of North American studies at the Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran. He is interested in US-China foreign policy, comparative politics, and cultural ties between China and Iran. His research focuses particularly on China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the China’s rising role in the international arena.

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