Bolton is gone but White House remains hawkish towards China

September 16, 2019 17:20
John Bolton's ouster as national security adviser may make the White House look less hawkish, but it certainly doesn't mean President Donald Trump is turning into a dove. Photo: Reuters

So US President Donald Trump has fired his hard-line national security adviser John Bolton.

On Sept. 10, Trump tweeted: “I informed John Bolton last night that his services are no longer needed at the White House. I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration...”

But Bolton later tweeted: “I offered to resign last night and President Trump said, ‘Let's talk about it tomorrow.’”

Whether he resigned or was fired, that fact remains that Bolton, known everywhere for his hawkish stance, has been removed from office.

And now that Bolton is out of the picture, does it mean Trump is beginning to adopt a more moderate foreign policy line?

Absolutely not. If anything, Bolton's ouster may make the White House look less hawkish, but it will never turn Trump into a dove.

As a businessman, Trump has always embraced the art of deal-making and bargaining, and has been known for being a master negotiator who is good at using the “carrot-and-stick” tactic and striking a delicate balance between the “strong hand” and the “soft hand” in order to get what he wants.

Bolton appeared to have resorted to the “stick” approach under most circumstances, especially when it comes to North Korea, the Taliban and Iran.

As such, one probably should have expected that it would just be a matter of time before Trump finally found that he could no longer bear his hard-core hawkish adviser.

On Sept. 11, Beijing announced that it would waive tariffs on 16 categories of US goods, an exemption that will last for about a year.

In return, Trump agreed to postpone his proposed tariff hikes on US$250 billion of Chinese goods until Oct. 15 “at the request of” Chinese Vice Premier Liu He.

But although Bolton is gone and both Washington and Beijing are extending the olive branch to each other, what we have at best is a brief truce in the ongoing Sino-US trade war.

“Taking a tough stance” on China has already become a bipartisan consensus between the Republicans and the Democrats, and therefore any attempt by Trump to go easy on Beijing in the long run will almost for certain put him in the firing line.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 13

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal