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Interview: Trump's and Hillary's China Policy

C3S Paper No. 0136/2016

The following is an unabridged version of an email interview conducted with Ms. Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S by Mr. Prudhvi Raju, Student, Asian College of Journalism. It focuses on the shape U.S foreign policy would take under Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump if elected as U.S President.

  1. Could you explain how would U.S foreign policy be in general terms with respect to China? (Please explain from both Hillary’s and Trump’s points of view)

U.S Presidential candidate Donald Trump presents a more aggressive picture of potential foreign policy with China. He is particular about what he strongly terms as China’s ‘currency manipulation’ among other concerns. He says, with respect to China, “They’re going to behave.” Besides, his decisions vis-à-vis other countries can cause consternation in China. He is encouraging a nuclear proliferation policy in Northeast Asia, by seeking to withdraw military support for allies like Japan and South Korea. This is in lieu of recommending that these Northeast Asian states protect themselves from North Korea by acquiring nuclear weapons. While such decisions are unlikely to be implemented in reality, Trump’s stand on nuclear proliferation in China’s neighbourhood will not earn brownie points with Beijing. Similarly, his stance on increasing military presence in the South China Sea will not be appreciated.

International Relations and foreign policy are not black and white decision making. Hillary Clinton understands this, and she presents a balanced, experienced approach. She will continue to support a policy defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, without provoking China. Besides, she has presented a view of acknowledging China as a rival in the economic domain, while saying that cooperation must be expanded in areas of common concern. The term ‘economic rival’ does not imply she is against China’s economic prowess. According to her a prosperous China is good for America and vice versa. But she is clear that America’s national interests should not be undermined.

In addition, she is keen that China ensures transparency on its intentions during its military modernization process. While showing concern for China’s defence enhancements, she will continue to follow a diplomatic foreign policy with Beijing. This is crucial, as America needs China to balance threats such as North Korea. China was also a key player along with U.S.A in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Hillary Clinton will not be too soft on other fronts. These include cyber-attacks. Other points are the issues of human rights and treatment of women. These aspects will form the human interest dimensions of Hillary’s foreign policy. However Hillary will address, along with China, non-traditional security threats as common concerns, namely terrorism and climate change.

The political dimensions involve engaging in robust foreign policy with other countries, such as India, Indonesia and Vietnam. They are part of President Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ plan.

  1. U.S’ Asian pivot or strategic rebalance in Asia is aimed at countering China’s influence in South China Sea. Hillary Clinton played a major role in devising this strategy. Will this strategy continue or there will be any shift? (Please answer from both Trump’s and Hillary’s points of view)

U.S.A’s Pivot to Asia is not formed with the sole reason of countering China. It is a diplomatic initiative aimed to maintain and enhance America’s interests and influence in the region. It may serve as a double purpose: In my view it could be a long term initiative to contain Russia in the Asia-Pacific as well. While Russia and China do not boast themselves as ‘allies’ they need each other’s support to further their national interests, be it by Moscow’s joint naval patrols in the South China Sea or China’s support for Russian actions in Syria and Ukraine. Thus there is an interconnected pattern that spans the globe, and is not limited to the Asia-Pacific alone. Hillary Clinton will understand these layered nuances of foreign policy well, given her experience as U.S Secretary of State.

She has stated that America should continue to maintain strong military alliances with Japan and South Korea. While the chief threat here is North Korea, America’s military support for Tokyo and Seoul may serve as a secondary deterrent for Japan and South Korea against China. But it must be noted that the key word here is ‘deterrent’. China has proclaimed it will not employ military solutions to territorial disputes.

Hillary faces a unique challenge if elected President. She will have to steer the Asian Pivot policy, via strategic measures in the Asia-Pacific, while concentrating on internal U.S priorities. She is keen to bolster America’s infrastructure and create jobs. These goals will have to be balanced with the ambitious Pivot. Interestingly, she names China alongside India, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Brunei, and the Pacific Island countries as foci in “part of a broader effort to ensure a more comprehensive approach to American strategy and engagement in the (Asia-Pacific) region.” Thus an inclusive foreign policy approach is likely to be adopted.

Trump, however seems to have a bifurcated Asia-Pacific policy. He is keen on withdrawing military support in Northeast Asia, while increasing military presence in South China Sea. A comprehensive, overall perspective is lacking. Russia is not seen as a threat. He seems to be pro-Putin. This can be advantageous for China too. Besides, his dim view of the American trade agreement with South Korea can also result in tensions with Seoul, which can push it towards China.

  1. Trump promised to slap heavy tariffs on China, punish it for manipulating its currency and stop its “outrageous theft of intellectual property.” In this light how would the U.S’s economic policy be towards China if Trump is elected to power? Please also answer how would Hillary’s economic policy be towards China?

Trump is not the sole decision maker when it comes to international economic matters. He needs to muster support from the American senate. After all, China is akin to being America’s ‘banker’. He doesn’t seem to be in favour of including China in the global trade framework: His campaign statement appears to criticize Hillary Clinton for supporting “China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization.” Such statements will undoubtedly instigate China. Beijing is already unhappy that it is not being appreciated by America for the One Belt One Road and the Maritime Silk Road. China wants to be given equal opportunity to develop just as U.S.A has. In its view, U.S.A had a 100 years to progress, while Beijing is trying to pull the country forward in development in just a few decades.

As already mentioned, Hillary Clinton is not against an economically progressive China. However she insists that China play by international trade rules. The issue of China dumping cheap steel in America will be dealt with seriously.

She is likely to keep a close eye on China as it transitions its economy. This will be interesting, given that she is enthused on creating jobs at home. To be more specific, Chinese enterprises may be responsible for employing upto 4,00,000 Americans in the coming decades. Smooth American cooperation with China is thus paramount.

Trump needs to understand these angles of international trade and investment. It is easy to make statements that can have short term benefits but will result in chaos in the long run.

Hillary’s desire to revitalize the American economy stems from inner solutions: creating jobs, infrastructure, etc. Trump is looking at external solutions such as enforcing harsh measures on other countries, in order to “make America great again”.

Regardless of who the next U.S President is going to be, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will have to acknowledge one point: That China is set to be the next economic superpower and cannot be ignored.

(Asma Masood is a Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies. She can be contacted at asma.masood11@gmail.com, Twitter: @asmamasood11.)

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