During his presidential election campaign and his early days in office, Trump vowed to take a hard stance on bilateral trade issues with China, promising to reverse massive US trade deficits and force Beijing to change its unfair trade practices. Trump appeared to have followed through his promise with actions by slapping steep tariffs on Chinese goods from July 2018, when bilateral trade tensions escalated quickly within the following months as both sides introduced reciprocal tariffs on each other.
However, after Trump met with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the G20 summit in Argentina last year, both countries agreed to put the trade war on hold and work toward reaching a new trade deal within 90 days. Following several rounds of trade talks in both Beijing and Washington, Trump announced on Sunday that he would extend the March 1 deadline for increasing US tariffs on Chinese goods further, thanks to "substantial progress" in the trade negotiations.
"As a result of these very productive talks, I will be delaying the US increase in tariffs now scheduled for March 1. Assuming both sides make additional progress, we will be planning a Summit for President Xi and myself, at Mar-a-Lago, to conclude an agreement. A very good weekend for US & China!" Trump wrote in a post on Twitter.
Despite their initial struggle to deal with the Trump administration’s much harsher approach on trade-related issues against China, Chinese leaders could be content to work with Trump and prefer him to stay in office beyond 2020, as both countries are expected to reach a trade deal in the near future, political analysts suggested.
"I don’t think China would express its views openly [on whether they would prefer Trump to stay in office]. If both sides can reach a big trade deal, especially if Xi can build a solid personal relationship with Trump, China would definitely value this [personal relationship]. Their personal relationship is pretty good and is likely to stay positive. This is very important for stabilizing bilateral relations. That’s why China could believe that Trump winning re-election would be beneficial for bilateral relations," Zhang Baohui, the director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Hong Kong's Lingnan University, told Sputnik.
The expert explained that Trump’s focus on building personal relationships with leaders has made it easier for Chinese leaders to engage him.
"Trump has repeatedly expressed that he has a very good relationship with Xi. Even regarding the ongoing trade negotiations, Trump stressed that any new trade deal needs to be agreed upon by both Xi and him personally. If a new trade deal can be done, China probably would feel that Xi could take firmer control of bilateral relations with the United States through his personal relationship with Trump," he said.
Zhang expects bilateral relations to stay stable for the remainder of Trump’s first term in office if both sides can reach a new trade deal in the near future.
Other political analysts pointed out that Trump could be easier to deal with for Chinese leaders, as his presidency is more like serving as a company’s CEO who has ultimate say on various issues.
"Trump has always claimed his charm comes from establishing solid personal relationships with other world leaders including Xi and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Under the traditional US political system, it focuses on the overall function of the system than the president having the ultimate say in various issues like a company’s CEO. Compared to a more traditional US president from the Democratic Party, Trump is unlikely to raise questions on other thorny issues such as human rights violations in China," Yen Chenshen, a researcher at the Institute of International relations, National Chengchi University in Taiwan, told Sputnik.
The expert noted that Trump has not openly raised questions on religious or ethnic issues in Western China’s Xinjiang province, where the United Nations estimates that about one million Muslim Uighurs have been sent to internment camps.
No Election Meddling
During a speech at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC in October last year, US Vice President Mike Pence openly accused China of trying to interfere in upcoming US elections as part of "a whole-of-government approach to advance its influence and benefit its interests."
Trump echoed Pence’s allegation on Twitter shortly afterwards, accusing China of trying to influence US midterm elections in November 2018 against him and the Republican Party.
Although a new bilateral trade deal could make Chinese leaders favour Trump winning reelection in 2020, China is unlikely to take actions to try to help Trump stay in office during the upcoming US presidential elections, professor Zhang from the Lingnan University argued.
"I never believed China took actions to try to influence US elections, because it’s impossible for Beijing to change the minds of US voters. It’s impossible for China to control who becomes the next US president. But China would always value the importance of the personal relationship between the leaders of the two countries when dealing with the United States," he said.
Yen from the National Chengchi University pointed out that any actions from China that could be viewed as trying to influence future US presidential elections would only backfire and hurt Trump’s chances in 2020.
"If China tries to support Trump and influence the US presidential election in 2020, such actions could be investigated by the US Congress and harm Trump even if he wins reelection. For China, the best strategy, for now, is simply continuing to praise Trump, who enjoys complements," he said.
Both of the experts expect the two countries to reach a new trade deal in the near future, as Trump appears to be ready to boast the concessions from China and celebrate it as a new political triumph.
The views and opinions expressed by the analysts do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.