Over Trump-Xi meet, China seeks US approval for OBOR

New Delhi, Delhi, India Nov 10, 2017, 10.02 AM(IST) Written By: Jagannath P. Panda

File photo of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. Photograph:( Reuters )

It is not important what Donald Trump achieved by accepting the invitation for the red-carpet gala reception from Xi Jinping during his short tour to China: it is rather, what China gained by offering a grand reception to the American President.

If the outcome of the Trump-Xi meet has to be read carefully this week, a lot is changing in Sino-US relations, especially to China’s favour that the world will not afford to ignore.

A lot is changing in Sino-US relations, especially to China’s favour that the world will not afford to ignore.
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Trump’s visit to China has perhaps lead to a new beginning in Sino-US relations.

Though the contours of this new beginning are yet to be well-defined, it has positioned the Sino-US relationships within a new framework while acknowledging each other as ‘deciders’ of global politics in a complex international environment. This seems to be emerging as the fundamental premise.

The moot point of this premise is to manage the looming global challenges, from North Korea to terrorism to climate change, within a shared framework. Though it is too early to assume that the Sino-US relations will progress within a shared framework, but there are references in Xi’s and Trump’s speech that can’t be overlooked completely.

For President Xi Jinping, the development of both China and the United States are “mutually reinforcing”. Donald Trump on a reciprocal note has stated that the United States would like to build a “stronger relationship” with China. These expressions probably point to their rhetorical political skills, but underlying these affirmations are a recognition that the United States needs the support of China and vice-versa. Importantly, this recognition comes at a time when both have emerged as the largest economies in the world and continue to lead the global economy as two key “engines of global economic growth”.

The US trade deficit with China which is around US$350 billion has been a thorn in the flesh which Trump addressed maturely without blaming China much during his visit.
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Trump-Xi meet witnessed both discussing a set of same old issues, bilateral and global, that have troubled the Sino-US relations for decades. Bilateral issues, such as the American demand to have greater access in the Chinese market, particularly in the field of financial sectors, addressing the trade imbalance that exists in China’s favour and to work towards a closer economic cooperation. A US$ 250 billion two-way investment proposal and commercial deals were also the highlights of Trump’s discussion with Xi.

The US trade deficit with China which is around US$350 billion has been a thorn in the flesh which Trump addressed maturely without blaming China much during his visit. Simply discussing these issues at a political level were not a big attainment. Most of these discussions between Trump and Xi were confined to forging a cooperative understanding between each other. However, a concrete set of agreements to address the American trade deficit with China and how to forge a better market access in China is still missing. Trump-Xi meet has promised to have a more keen understanding between the two countries on these bilaterally economic-centric issues which may mark a new beginning to their relationship.

By gaining an open American support, China can convince the international community better about the merits of the BRI.
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Forging these bilateral-centric understanding with China was important to American interest since Trump is continuously trying to impress the domestic constituency in the United States by creating jobs and growth in United States economy. Addressing trade deficit, and having better Chinese market access will help Trump to create more jobs in the United States. More than Trump advancing American interest, Xi Jinping seems to have struck a better deal with Trump while discussing these bilaterally economic-centric issues.

To formulate a better economic cooperation, address the trade imbalance, and market access among other impending issues, the Chinese President pointed that both sides need to have a practical understanding on key areas, including on the flagship ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI), to enhance cooperation. This is a significant development since China wants to gather an open American support on the BRI. By gaining an open American support, China can convince the international community better about the merits of the BRI.

Besides, this is a Chinese strategy to characterise the next phase of Sino-US economic cooperation within the belt and road framework. That meansChina would not like to move ahead on core bilateral issues, particularly in relation to the Sino-US trade conflict without a formal endorsement from the United States over ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI).

The highpoint of the Trump-Xi meet was the concrete discussion over North Korea which has been a prickly issue between them for some time now.
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A new beginning was also noticed in Sino-US relations on managing the global affairs, particularly the international security environment. Tackling global terrorism, bringing stability in Afghanistan, meeting the climate change challenges could be the crucial aspects of Trump-Xi meet, but these are old issues.

The highpoint of the Trump-Xi meet was the concrete discussion over North Korea which has been a prickly issue between them for some time now. Both Trump and Xi expressed their mutual commitment over “complete denuclearisation” of North Korea.

Strikingly, both expressed concern over the deteriorating security conditions in Northeast Asia and how the international community must generate a consensus to tackle nuclear North Korea. Discussion over North Korea is not a new topic of discussion between China and the United States. But to have a virtual understanding to handle the North Korean issue maturely is certainly an important development which puts China in a respectable position as the determining power on the northeast Asian security.

Trump’s visit to China may not have offered anything new to the Sino-US relations. But a subtle change is noticed in their relationship which is more advantageous to China and that marks to a new beginning. This change is more noticed in their bilateral engagement where the Chinese are slowly projecting themselves as a peer-partner of the United States. This points to also a scenario that the Sino-US ties are moving towards a more engaging relationship factoring the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ (BRI) of Beijing where the United States would be required to pursue a more consultative relationship with China no matter how much the US strategic community might like to repudiate.

Jagannath P. Panda

Dr. Jagannath Panda is a Research Fellow and Centre Coordinator for East Asia at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He is the Series Editor for ‘Routledge Studies on Think Asia’.