The conventional wisdom on U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s China policy is that his preferred transactional approach, aimed at making deals with China, will not work. The reason behind this judgment is that the fundamental differences between the United States and China are structural; a status quo United States and a rising, revisionist China have divergent interests. The logic continues that since conflict is deeply embedded in the structure of the international system, any transactions between the two will have to be superficial, cosmetic, and will ultimately be unable to change the profound distrust that exists between them, allowing them to overcome the conflict of their national interests. In other words, these transactions will hit a wall sooner or later, because the national interests of either the United States or China are not negotiable.
Trump’s original hardline approach to China had raised major criticisms from the policy community, which seem to have helped shift his policy back to a more traditional track. His attempt to adapt the U.S. “one China” policy was seen by some as aimed at using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to seek concessions from China on other key fronts. Yet upon the realization of the infeasibility of this approach with either mainland China or Taiwan, Trump returned to a more traditional U.S. policy on Taiwan by finally affirming the one China policy in February 2017.
This article was originally published by The Diplomat Magazine on May 1, 2017. Read an excerpt of the article here, and see the full article in The Diplomat Magazine.