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Paul Haenle addresses students of the International Leadership of Texas across 7 campuses where he talked about the importance of a strong US-China relationship.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump tweeted that he had a “long and very good conversation” with President Xi Jinping over the phone. However Trump’s positive rhetoric contrasts sharply with the current reality of the U.S.-China relationship. In the midst of increasingly competitive and near-confrontational relations, it is important to remain clear-eyed about the difficulties that the U.S. and China face going forward.
The Chinese . . . worry that there is a lot that Trump could do to change the status quo in North Korea which wouldn’t really be in their interests. I think they fear Trump could broker something, and they fear that North Korea really wants a good relationship with the US.
In the Bush administration we tried to have those conversations and the Chinese were very reluctant to engage. They didn’t want to be perceived as doing secret planning with the United States about the collapse of the regime because they thought it would make the situation worse. But I think they’re probably more willing to have those conversations today.
While the United States and China agree on the ultimate objective of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, persistent mistrust and differing priorities prevent the two countries from making significant progress. North Korean actions that undermine Chinese interests, rather than U.S. pressure, will have a greater impact in fundamentally shifting Beijing’s policy toward Pyongyang.
China’s policy towards North Korea is primarily driven by fears of the chaos that could erupt along the border, rather than pressure from the Trump administration to help contain Mr. Kim’s nuclear development programme. The Chinese are concerned about the North Koreans for their own reasons. I see the Chinese at their wits’ end.
While China continues to want a denuclearized peninsula, stability is its first priority. China prefers to live with a nuclear-powered but friendly neighbor to one with only conventional weapons, but that is unfriendly.
China may be mistaken in thinking it had done enough to address U.S. concerns, and Trump could find people disappointed at home he didn’t make more progress on items like market access and North Korea.
These trade and economic issues by themselves are extremely important for the future health of the US-China relationship. If we can’t fix these, the relationship over the long term will potentially derail.
For Xi, it is important that China and the United States are perceived as equals during the visit. For their part, the Americans will try to avoid the visit being seen as a ‘G2 summit’ or a meeting of ‘the two most powerful leaders in the world’.