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‘Xi is my good friend’: Trump’s role in the relationship between the U.S.A and China

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Donald Trump’s unpredictable behavior makes it difficult to have a stable relationship with China, said David Ignatius, a foreign affairs columnist for The Washington Post while giving a lecture at the University of Hong Kong.

Ignatius noted that Trump “made everybody dizzy” with his approach to diplomacy, ignoring the established procedures of past administrations in favor of unilateral decision-making. This resulted in a dichotomous approach of being openly confrontational against China and threatening economic sanctions, while still holding out the possibility of “intense personal diplomacy”.

North Korea was a prime example of this approach. Ignatius noted how Trump was very hostile in the beginning by promising “fire and fury” and levying economic sanctions, only to be followed by various peace summits where he praised Kim Jong Un, calling him a “dear friend”.

Crowd listening to foreign relations talk
David Ignatius (center) addresses students at a public forum regarding the relationship between the U.S and China and how the upcoming U.S elections cast an air of uncertainty. (Source: HKU JMSC)

These tendencies made it difficult to categorize his foreign policy actions as part of an overall strategic framework. For China, however, Ignatius speculated that the upcoming U.S elections had made Trump more amenable to negotiation. As Trump looks for a “win” against China, his policy team has still urged him to not compromise on the issue of 5G technology – an important arena of competition between the two countries.

Ultimately, “President Trump came to believe that his approach was effective, that it worked” said Ignatius. If this mentality remains it would be a continuous source of friction within Trump’s administration, making it difficult to clearly define the relationship between the U.S and China.