Trump Injects High Risk Into Relations With China
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For China, President Trump’s scrapping of the American-brokered Pacific trade agreement is a chance to extend Beijing’s economic and political influence. And it is an opportunity to deepen ties with its neighbors in Asia.
But with a cooling economy at home and a looming leadership shakeup, the last thing President Xi Jinping wants is a trade war, though officials are girding for that possibility. Rather, China’s leaders crave stability and predictability.
Early signs indicate they may not get their wish. The Chinese fear that if Mr. Trump was willing to toss aside years of delicate negotiations with allies and decades of American trade policy, he could also go his own way on issues he has staked out with Beijing, including Taiwan and the South China Sea.
As if to bolster that point, on Monday — the same day that Mr. Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-nation trade agreement — his spokesman said the United States would prevent China from accessing islands it claimed in the South China Sea, a threat that one nationalist Chinese newspaper had already warned would mean war.
“This shows that Trump might act on his words,” Deng Yuwen, a public affairs commentator in Beijing, said in an interview. “With previous presidents, their election promises weren’t taken so seriously.”
He added, “That means China must take his other warnings more seriously, especially about the South China Sea and Taiwan.”
Mr. Trump’s goal in squelching the trade agreement was to protect American jobs and businesses. His trade officials have argued that the deal does not do enough to help the United States or to contain China, which was not invited to join the agreement.
But in killing an agreement designed to limit China’s vast economic reach in Asia and anchor America’s presence in the world’s fastest growing region, analysts said, Mr. Trump created a void that President Xi was already practicing to fill.
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