Tension between the US and China are fraught. Photo: iStock

Relations between China and the United States took a new turn as US President Donald Trump suspended Sino-US trade talks and decided to raise tariffs on Chinese goods. In addition, the US House of Representatives passed two bills that urge normalizing the sale of arms to Taiwan, resuming talks on US-Taiwan trade agreements and supporting Taiwan’s roles in international organizations. As these two incidents happened within a short period of time, it seemed that the Trump administration and Congress were jointly exerting pressure on China.

Is Trump’s China policy undergoing a big change? Has the US Congress reached an internal consent on its China policy? Will Congress play the “Taiwan” card? How should China react?

First, while these moves seemed unexpected, Trump’s policy regarding China has not changed at all. Trump is still acting as a “businessman president” and keeps changing his mind to attract eyeballs.

Trump will not hesitate to pressure China if such a move can help create jobs and boost his popularity. In fact, China should be glad to see this. As long as the issues are about trade and business, China should actively respond. It appeared that Trump took all these actions only for his election campaign, given that the third year of the presidency is often seen as a year to make political achievements.

Second, the US has yet to come to a consensus regarding its policy toward China. The latest move of the House of Representatives may have been orchestrated by certain political elites who want to challenge Trump. The two forces in the US that affect the United States’ China policy are the anti-China faction led by Vice-President Mike Pence and Congress. They are mainly responsible for having stirred up issues to confront China.

The Taiwan bill that has just been passed is a key example. It is the most powerful, but also riskiest, card the US has ever played on this issue.

It may have already backfired on Trump as it was apparently used to undermine his trade achievements and stop him from winning another term. Political elites in the US know clearly that there is no room for China to compromise on the Taiwan issue, which is related to China’s national interests.

And for this reason, the Taiwan bill that was passed could be mere wishful thinking of some political elites in the US. The bill cannot enhance Taiwan’s security and stability along the the Taiwan Strait but escalate the tensions between Taiwan and China, resulting in a huge conflict between China and the US.

It has been 40 years since China and the US established their diplomatic relations. For a long time, the relations have been asymmetrical as the US was in a strong and aggressive position while China remained relatively weak and passive.

However, the relations may be affected by China’s development throughout the years. For example, China’s decision to open up its economy in 1978 was followed by the establishment of Sino-US relations in 1979. Since the financial crisis in 2008, the two countries have begun cooperation in the Group of Twenty. China was seen playing an active role in shaping the Sino-US relations, and it can still do the same again this time to enhance the Sino-US relations.

To sum up, Trump is a potential upside to the Sino-US talks. The anti-China faction in the US Congress is the one China should be wary of. They have been playing the “3T” cards, which refer to Taiwan, Tibet and Trade, but they are doomed to fail. Modern China is not the old one any more. There are many ties between the two superpowers that cannot be cut off easily. Should the relations between both sides turn sour, it will be a disaster for the whole world.

This article was first published on ATimesCN.com and was translated by Kamaran Malik.

Lin Hongyu

Lin Hongyu is the standing councilor of the China Association of International Studies (CAIS), senior fellow of China Pacific Studies Academy and one of the distinguished scholars of Peking social science theory studies. He earned his PhD from Peking University and once was a visiting scholar at Hoover Institution at Stanford University and director of the Department of International Politics at the China University of International Relations.

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