US-China tensions will continue under Trump -- Tsinghua Univ.'s Yan Xuetong
BEIJING -- While Asian countries are concerned that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump may dramatically change the superpower's foreign policy in Asia, Washington will likely maintain its hard-line stance toward Beijing, particularly on the economic and military fronts, Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Beijing-based Tsinghua University, said in an interview with The Nikkei.
Q: Trump has argued that the U.S. cannot be the policeman of the world. What do you think will happen?
A: While the U.S. does not want to bear the responsibility for watching over the world, it will not give up the privileges it has enjoyed as its policeman. That contradiction will bring considerable uncertainty to the world, triggering more conflicts in the international community.
Trump's policy agenda does not seem like it will be able to stop the U.S. economy from a relative decline. It would not change the state of the post-Cold War international order, where the power gap between the U.S. and China has been narrowing.
Q: How will Trump's presidency affect China-U.S. relations?
A: The Trump regime will not always be beneficial to China. The U.S. will likely moderate its pressure on China over human rights issues but may instead take a harder stance on the economic front, in an attempt to let the U.S. voters realize economic benefits.
The two countries will continue to be in conflict and compete with each other on military issues, too. The U.S. may no longer refer to the "pivot to Asia" strategy in terms of its diplomatic and military presence, as it did under President Barack Obama. But the country will remain keen to take initiative in East Asia, with help from its allies.
Q: Trump opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, in which China is not a member. Is this favorable to China?
A: Trump's disapproval of the TPP will not necessarily give advantages to China. The president-elect does not support any regional economic partnerships, either. He would not be interested in joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, currently under negotiation among economies including China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. He might even try to block its launch.
Q: How will the U.S.-Japan alliance change? It could be a major concern for China.
A: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have a tough time ahead, being asked to pay a higher price for U.S. military bases in Japan. But nothing will change in terms of the nature of the relationship -- the Trump regime will not give up the advantages of the alliance with Japan. From the standpoint of America's national interests, it is hard to imagine the U.S. abandoning its role as the "nuclear umbrella" for Japan.
Q: What does the future hold for territorial disputes in the South China Sea?
A: The circumstances have changed dramatically since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently redirected the Philippines' policy toward China. The U.S. has thus lost ground in its attempt to counter China. I wonder if the Trump administration might shift its focus in Asia from the southeastern region to the northeast.
Q: In Northeast Asia, issues concerning the Korean Peninsula and Taiwan have drawn attention. How will the U.S. handle these?
A: The president-elect may not be as enthusiastic as President Obama in dealing with nuclear threats from North Korea. Trump will let China take leadership, which could complicate things. Meanwhile, South Korean President Park Geun-hye is losing power amid her own political scandal. The alliance between the two countries will be increasingly led by the U.S. side.
Predicting the impact of Trump's presidency on China-Taiwan relations is extremely difficult. Trump may possibly demonstrate stronger support than Obama did for the government of Taiwan. The U.S. is losing dominance in Southeast Asia. If the U.S. loosens its grip on Taiwan, its position in Northeast Asia could be undermined as well.
Interviewed by Shuhei Yamada, head of Nikkei's China headquarters