Touting his skills as a negotiator on the campaign trail, can Donald Trump tackle the global challenges the U.S. faces? We’ll find out this week as the president meets with international leaders such as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the White House on Monday, speaks with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Wednesday and meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday.
Trump Deals with International Leaders
Monday’s meeting with the Egyptian President comes in the shadow of Obama’s temporary suspension of military aid since El-Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013. Overall security assistance to Egypt between 2011 – 2015 was reported by the GAO as $6.4 billion. The GAO found in their report that cooperation in monitoring the end use of the US funds met resistance from Egyptian authorities. Despite this, the Trump Administration is looking to continue cooperation with Egypt irregardless of their human rights record.
In a phone call between Trump and Sisi in January, Trump affirmed US commitment to aiding in their fight against terror and continued this discussion before the media on Monday. Calling Egypt a “good friend” in the war on terror, Trump highlighted how Sisi had been doing a remarkable job in his country and that Egypt has “an ally” in the United States.(1) The details of the meeting have yet to be fully released, but a White House press release states:
Together, the United States and Egypt have a tremendous opportunity to work together to defeat terrorism and to make both our countries more peaceful and prosperous.
Critics of the Egyptian alliance have been skeptical of supporting the country because of the political crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood.
Wednesdays meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan will likely also involve a serious discussion of the ISIS issue, as well as the emerging political alliances of Saudi Arabia, Turkey an Israel. Key issues in Jordanian relations include Jordan’s promotion of Israeli-Palestinian peace, the threats to the nation from ISIS from Syria and Iraq, as well as continuing the $450 million in military aid for the nation. Domestic terror attacks have increased in the region at a time where Syrian refugees are straining the nation. As an ally, Jordan continues to be a central US partner in Operation Inherent Resolve by conducting airstrikes, allowing US access to military bases and contributing intelligence.
The elephant in the week, however, is the meeting with China. Ahead of the Chinese meeting, President Trump commented that, “if the Chinese don’t do something about North Korea, we will”. He tweeted again that – “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years. China has done little to help!”. This in a run up to the meeting with President Xi Jinping.
What do we make of China on the Grand Chessboard that is our planet? If you ask China, it’s to take the lead. Not because they seek it, but because as Zhang Jun of the Chinese Foreign Ministry highlights, “If anyone were to say China is playing a leadership role in the world I would say it’s not China rushing to the front but rather the front runners have stepped back leaving the place to China.” (2) The obvious statement here is a highlight of the bungled foreign policy accomplishments of the US for the last two decades.
We’re also reminded of the slow emerging of China since the end of the cold war. It was only a matter of time before the Chinese became more assertive in regional politics- a course that could naturally place them in an adversarial role with the US. South Korea and Japan, especially strong allies of the US, look to the west for leadership and security. An emerging China is taking the slow road to undermining the US in what seems to be a game of waiting out the crumbling Western nations. Can the US get back on course, maintain its position of global leadership, or will we fall to the tune of the Roman Empire?
President Trump seems to have a goal in mind, and that means challenging China directly. His criticism of Chinese currency manipulation during his campaign signaled that, unlike previous administrations, he’s ready to go toe-to-toe with the emerging giant. Trump’s boldness in criticizing North Korea, a somewhat (sort-of) important Chinese ally is but another of an opening volley in the soft-conflict between the two nations.
Trade policy with China has failed to live up to expectations. When China was accepted into the World Trade Organization, the hope from the Clinton and then Bush administrations that free-trade with the nation would break down barriers and create better relations. Bush wanted China open to US agricultural exports and other key products. Optimism aside, opening up US markets to billions of new consumers makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, we’ve been completely screwed.
Currency manipulation is one of the more popular talking points about the unfair Chinese trading practices. China, despite its many reforms, is still a communist country with state controls and ownership over business. This plays into the hands of Chinese companies who take advantage of the US dollar trading higher, thus allowing their companies to undersell. In a free-market system, efficiency should be rewarded, but China is hardly a free market. A shining example of this is the steel industry.
Because Chinese steel companies are subsidized by the government, they have an unfair (and illegal) trade advantage over other foreign steel companies. According to the American Steel and Iron Institute, 13,500 US jobs have been lost to an environment where Chinese companies get to cheat and the US rolls over like a good dog in the name of free trade.
Not only are the Chinese guilty of attempting to destroy American manufacturing through illegal trade practices, they’re also the top violators in the espionage department. Dozens of cases a year are prosecuted by the FBI in cases where Chinese citizens are caught stealing trade secrets which the Bureau estimates at hundreds of billions of dollars per year. But, legal technology transfers are actually common. One condition to accessing the Chinese markets is that some companies are required to have operations within mainland China. This gives the Chinese access to proprietary trade secrets that are then stolen. And there’s little we can do about it.
Leading up to the meeting on Friday, there’s no doubt that President Trump is going to have a rather lengthy list of complaints to discuss with China. Given the policy of China to deal so unfairly with the US, it’s hard to see how the President plans to deal with the situation in a way that is negotiable. But, then again, Trump is full of surprises.
What do you think of President Trump’s negotiation skills with international leaders? Let us know in the comment section below.