Changing Trump views toward Russia, China worry allies
Washington — Once soft on Russia and hard on China, President Donald Trump rapidly reversed course in the last weeks, concluding there’s more business to be done with Beijing than with Moscow.
Trump’s evolving views on those two world powers have brought the U.S. back into alignment with former President Barack Obama’s pattern of “great power” politics. Though Russia critics welcomed Trump’s newly hardened tone, there’s less enthusiasm from America’s allies in Asia, who fear the U.S. could overlook China’s more aggressive posture toward its neighbors.
It may be that Trump, the businessman-turned-world leader, is discovering China’s transactional approach to foreign relations is better suited to achieving his own goals. Chinese leaders have sought a U.S. relationship based on the two powers respecting each other’s spheres of influence and not intervening in one another’s internal affairs.
Such a balance-of-powers approach had been Russia’s traditional stance. Moscow still wants Washington out of its backyard, but Russia’s alleged campaigns to influence the U.S. presidential election and upcoming votes in the heart of Western Europe have made it harder for American officials to take the offer seriously. Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and Trump’s newfound commitment to militarily countering any chemical weapons attacks also is proving hard to square.
Also, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s shared tendency toward nationalist, “don’t-mess-with-us” rhetoric may be putting the pair on a collision course.
The sudden U-turn for Trump has been head-snapping for people around the world, despite his self-professed penchant for unpredictability and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances.
As he shifts away from Russia, Trump is offering an outstretched hand to China.
For years Trump said that China was “eating our lunch,” and he peppered his campaign rallies with promises to label China a currency manipulator as one of his first acts. He even threatened to start a trade war.
Trump’s growing focus on the North Korean threat, heightened by signs the North might soon conduct another nuclear test, has changed Trump’s thinking. Now he is looking for help from China, North Korea’s dominant trade partner, and easing up on his rhetoric.
Although U.S. allies Japan and South Korea are heartened by Trump’s North Korea focus, his softer tack toward Beijing is causing concern. China’s other designs for Asia include staking sovereignty to maritime territories, sometimes far from its coast, that others countries claim as well.