Chinese President Xi Jinping steps out from behind China's flag as he takes his position for his joint news conference with President Barack Obama, Friday,...
Evan Vucci

China is eager to capitalize on Trump’s early missteps

It wasn’t exactly a secret that President Obama often saw international affairs through a specific lens: there was a race underway for 21st-century primacy, and Obama was determined to make sure the United States remained well positioned in a competition against Beijing.

For Obama, U.S. trade policy was focused on countering China. U.S. policy in the arctic was about China. U.S. policy in the Caribbean was heavily influenced by China. U.S. policy towards India came against a backdrop of Chinese interest in the region.

With this in mind, it seems China, for entirely self-interested reasons, is delighted with many of Donald Trump’s early moves. CNBC reported yesterday that the new president’s antagonism towards Mexico “could make it easier for China to become the country’s – and Latin America’s – top trade partner.”
“The U.S. trade tensions with Mexico are putting the Mexican government on overdrive trying to find new export markets,” said Sean Miner, fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank, who noted that 80 percent of Mexican exports go to the U.S. “Recently, China and Mexico have become closer. Clearly this is a consequence of the rising tensions.” […]

Fearing that trade with the U.S. may be restricted by policies implemented by the Trump administration, Mexico has been looking to lessen its economic dependence on its big neighbor to the north. Chinese and Mexican officials met on Dec. 12, pledging to deepen ties between the two countries.
The CNBC report added that China is looking for “a bigger economic beachhead in the Western Hemisphere,” and is eyeing other Latin American countries for stronger economic ties: “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in October that China wants a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with Colombia. If the two countries agree on a deal, Colombia would join Peru, Chile and Costa Rica among Latin American countries that have bilateral trade agreements with China.”

There’s a lot of this going around, especially after Trump officially killed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the delight of officials in Beijing who were eager to see the agreement die.

The New Republic’s Jeet Heer noted that the same week as Trump’s regressive, “America First” inaugural address, Chinese President Xi Jinping appeared at the World Economic Forum in Davos where he presented his country “as a defender of economic globalization and an exemplar of international cooperation on issues like climate change.”

The Washington Post’s Dan Drezner added, “I warned you all back in October that the Chinese would seem like the last great liberals in the world… A large fraction of the world still believes in the liberal order that the United States helped to erect 70 years ago, even if the current U.S. administration does not. They will look to any country willing to publicly defend that power.”

Describing the new U.S. president’s impact on international affairs, the New York Times’ David Leonhardt said Trump seems intent on “making China great again.”

As the White House stumbles from one mistake to another, it’s been difficult to find anyone who’s pleased with Team Trump’s horrendous start. By all appearances, however, the United States’ largest global rival has reason to be thrilled by the amateur president’s bumbling.


China, Donald Trump and Foreign Policy

China is eager to capitalize on Trump's early missteps