Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trump gambles on end-game in full offensive against China

Trump gambles on end-game in full offensive against China

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Tensions rise as Trump slaps $250 billion in tariffs on China. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP

Trump gambles on end-game in full offensive against China

Donald Trump has escalated his feud with China into a full-press offensive that has drawn comparisons to the Cold War. Now the question on both sides of the Pacific is, how will it end?

In recent weeks, Trump has slapped $250 billion worth of tariffs, boosted military support for rival Taiwan, accused China of interfering in US elections, stepped up denunciations of Beijing’s human rights record and curtailed its access to US nuclear technology.

The real estate mogul, who early in his tenure had described Chinese President Xi Jinping as a friend, was generally presumed to be most interested in trade as he has repeatedly vowed to ramp up US factory production by fighting back the flow of cheaper manufactured imports.

But his administration has expanded its pressure campaign to virtually all fronts, a strategy unprecedented since the time the US and China established diplomatic relations four decades ago.

“It is a full-frontal assault by the US on China,” said director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elizabeth Economy.

“There is a general sense in Washington that China is simply too big now, it’s simply too large as a country and as an economy, to allow it to continue to violate all sorts of expected international trade and investment norms,” she said.

Economy said that the US was also struck at how Xi has “presented a very different China to the world” with a “much more ambitious and expansive foreign policy.”

“The US and other countries say, ‘Okay, this is the China we have to deal with, not what we anticipated 10 years ago.’”

Hua Po, a political commentator in Beijing, agreed that trade was only the “superficial” source of friction.

He believes the underlying concern of the US was the Made in China 2025 plan, under which Beijing has set a goal of rapidly ensuring that a majority of its industry is sourced domestically.

Technology theft

The US accuses China of rampantly stealing technology and seeking an unfair trade advantage by forcing foreign businesses to work with local partners.

“Even if the trade issue is resolved, other problems between China and the US will continue to exist,” Hua said.

He said Trump seemed to want “to fight a new cold war.” But Hua doubted that the US would enjoy the support of its allies, especially in Europe, which do not see China as the same type of threat as the former Soviet Union.

And amid turbulence on Wall Street, China is expecting the US economy to see growing strains as negative effects emerge from Trump’s signature domestic policy of tax cuts, Hua said.

“China does believe that this dispute will last for some time. The US wants to run a 100-meter race with China, but China wants a marathon with the US,” he said.

Tensions soared between the world’s two largest economies last month at the annual UN General Assembly session.

A closed-door meeting of foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the Security Council turned “icy” as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lashed out aggressively against China, whose foreign minister, Wang Yi, responded with similar intensity, according to a witness.

Political interference

Vice President Mike Pence a week later delivered a speech in which he took China to task and made the headline-grabbing claim – a month ahead of congressional elections – that Beijing was intervening in US politics, citing the Asian power’s purchase of newspaper advertisements and its imposition of counter tariffs in politically crucial states.

The two countries have still kept in contact on resolving the nuclear crisis with North Korea, a top priority for both powers, with Pompeo visiting Beijing after a stop in Pyongyang.

Ryan Hass, the director for China policy on the White House’s National Security Council under Obama, said that Trump had taken a new course by emphasising public pressure over diplomacy with China.

He said Trump had gambled “on the assumption that Beijing needs a stable relationship with Washington” and that Beijing is ready to moderate its policies both at home and abroad.

“Beijing believes Washington is organising itself to contest China’s rise. As such, Beijing sees little incentive to accommodate Trump’s demands on trade or other issues, because doing so would not resolve the underlying source of intensifying rivalry – Washington’s efforts to hold back China’s rise,” said Hass, now a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“Given these dynamics, it is unlikely that either side will moderate its approach in the foreseeable future,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Takeo hand-woven silk items provide local high-quality alternative to imports

    After graduating from university and beginning her career as a civil servant at the the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khieu Sina found time to establish a business that aligns with her true passion – quality hand-woven Khmer goods. Her product line, known as Banteay Srei,

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival draws to close

    Cambodia's 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival wrapped up successfully on November 28 after a four-day run, with the film “Voice of the Night” awarded top prize for 2022. Sum Sithen, the organiser of the short film festival, told The Post that the number of attendees to the