By Bai Tiantian
Despite US President Donald Trump’s unpredictability, Sino-US relations in 2017 outperformed analysts’ initial expectations but relations will likely face a rockier future in 2018 as room for diplomacy is shrinking, analysts said.
“Sino-US relations in general performed better than expected in 2017. This is because China has made great effort to stabilize ties with Trump, making compromises in trade and on North Korea,” Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the China Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of American Studies, told the Global Times.
“In 2018, getting tougher on China will be the general trend in US foreign policy. The US establishment has never stopped viewing China as a rival and trying to contain Beijing’s increasing clout. “This is seen in the US national security strategy, and the establishment will increase pressure on Trump,” Liu said.
“China has made enough concessions on trade and the North Korea issue in 2017, and has left very little room to further compromise. If the US continues to pressure China on these two issues, which is very likely, the chance for open frictions will rise,” Liu noted.
China and the US signed deals worth more than $250 billion on Trump’s trip to China last year.
Beijing has also resolutely carried out UN Security Council sanctions toward Pyongyang in the face of its nuclear and missile tests, even though doing so would hurt China’s traditional ties with North Korea.
Wu Xinbo, director of Fudan University’s Center for American Studies in Shanghai, said he believes that trade, North Korea and US domestic policies would be the three key factors affecting Sino-US relations in 2018.
Wu told the Global Times that with the trade deficit with China in 2017 surpassing that of 2016, the Trump administration will very likely increase its pressure on Beijing on trade.
The US trade deficit with China was up 13 percent in 2017 from the previous year to a record $288 billion, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
“As for North Korea, the previous sanctions have failed to stop Pyongyang from pursuing its nuclear and missile programs. Any US demand to force China to further pressure North Korea, such as stopping all oil imports or imposing a naval blockade, would greatly increase the tensions on the peninsula as well as between the US and China,” Wu said.
Analysts also suspect Trump might use frictions in foreign policy to divert domestic attention, given the ongoing investigation of his ties with Russia and the congressional mid-term elections this year.
“China should carefully steer its ties with the US in 2018, create more opportunities for interaction between the Chinese and US presidents while at the same time continue to widen associations with Trump’s team,” Wu said.
Trump’s first year
Major Western media have criticized Trump’s first year in office, calling his foreign policy a failure and citing polls to prove that Trump is the most unpopular US president on record.
Chinese net users and media, however, are more open-minded toward the non-traditional US president.
“The emotional judgment [by the US media] could make them unable to learn about Trump from a more objective perspective. Trump’s shrewdness, his tactics and unpredictability are in fact an advantage in his game,” read an article published on Sunday by Xiakedao, a WeChat account affiliated with the People’s Daily.
Many Chinese readers supported the article, saying one should not let ideology cloud his judgment.