22 April 2019
US President Donald Trump in a phone conversation with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28. Photo: Reuters
US President Donald Trump in a phone conversation with Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 28. Photo: Reuters

How Beijing can capitalize on Trump’s hotheadedness

Almost immediately after assuming office, US President Donald Trump has declared war on all fronts.

By unleashing a series of highly controversial measures, he has upset and alienated a growing number of people, including some of his traditional allies.

During a phone conversation on Jan. 28, according to the Washington Post, Trump had a heated exchange with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a deal to relocate to the United States more than a thousand refugees, mostly from the Middle East, who are currently detained by Australian authorities at two offshore camps, an agreement concluded by former US president Barack Obama and Turnbull last year.

It is reported that Trump, who was very dissatisfied with the deal, flipped out during his chat with Turnbull and hanged up on him.

The Australian government has denied this and insisted it was a pleasant conversation, but the saga has already caused quite an embarrassment to the White House.

Apart from Australia, Trump has also lashed out at both Japan and Germany over their huge trade surpluses with the US, accusing the two allies of manipulating the value of the yen and the euro against the dollar.

Then came Mexico, America’s southern neighbor. Last week Trump announced that the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border will commence shortly and that Mexico will have to bear the cost, otherwise, he said, he will seriously consider imposing a 20 percent tariff on all Mexican goods entering the US market.

Trump’s take-no-prisoners approach to diplomacy might have wowed his conservative right-wing supporters at home, but it has also alienated many of his country’s most steadfast allies, which could eventually take a heavy toll on US leadership in the West.

That the US under Trump is becoming increasingly isolationist may also leave behind a huge power vacuum on the international scene, thereby providing China with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fill that vacuum, rewrite international norms and assume global leadership.

In fact, China has wasted no time in capitalizing on America’s new policies. The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has allowed Beijing to replace Washington and assume leadership in global trade.

The tensions between Washington and Mexico City have also provided a golden opportunity for Beijing to establish a bridgehead in America’s backyard.

A Chinese automaker based in Anhui province has announced a US$200 million joint venture with a Mexican company to build cars not only for Mexico but for the entire Latin American market.

If Donald Trump continues to behave like a loose cannon, perhaps it will only be a matter of time before some of America’s most faithful allies are drawn to China’s side.

Let’s not forget its closest ally Britain is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank spearheaded by Beijing.

As they say in diplomacy, there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.

One should not be surprised if one day London welcomes Beijing with open arms once relations between the US and the UK go sour.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 3

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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