China’s fortunes may or may not be blessed by Donald Trump’s victory in the US election earlier this month. Just as there are three potentially negative outcomes, there are also three future Asia-Pacific scenarios that would see China’s political influence and economic prospects increase. Whichever occurs, the world will be watching.
There are three reasons why Trump’s electoral victory might not be good for China’s foreign policy. First, Trump advocated an offshore balancing strategy to retreat from the Asia-Pacific. It may sound nice for China because it can fill the ‘strategic vacuum’ left by the US. However, the reality is there is no guarantee of such a vacuum if the US withdraws from the Pacific. Other regional powers such as Japan, South Korea, India and Australia, will look for closer security ties, even forming new alliances, to deal with China.
The existing US-led ‘hub-and-spokes’ system is by no means good for China. However, the strategic uncertainties as a result of a US retreat will be even worse for China’s strategic environment. Japan and South Korea, even Australia, might choose to develop nuclear weapons for a power equilibrium with a rising China and an ever more dangerous North Korea. The territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the South China Sea may easily trigger military conflicts among nations, and arms races seem inevitable.
Moreover, if Trump reconciles US relations with Russia, China might be singled out as the primary target or threat of the US. Then the US might not retreat from the Pacific. Instead, the US will be able to assemble more resources and energy to squeeze China’s strategic space in the region. For example, the US might buttress its military presence and increase the Freedom of Navigation operations in the disputed South China Sea with cooperation from other states in the region.
If Russia starts to reset relations with the US, it might limit its military cooperation and technology transfers to China. Consequently, China will need a much longer time to catch up with the US militarily. For China, Russia as a US enemy will be China’s friend, but Russia as a US friend might not be good for China.
Please click here to read the full “Trump haunts China’s dreams” article in Australian Institute of International Affairs by Griffith Asia Institute Associate Professor Kai He and School of Government and International Relations Senior Lecturer Dr Huiyun Feng.