The Obama-Xi era is ending amid doubts and uncertainties that weigh on the entire Pacific region. China’s president calls for "cooperation in many areas." Trump pledges to cooperate for "mutual benefit" but the protectionist threats he made during the campaign hang over the future. Taiwan, North Korea and the South China Sea are the other main items on the agenda.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Bilateral relations, North Korea’s nuclear programme, US arms sales to Taiwan, Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, and trade are some of the most important issues that hang in the balance of relations between Beijing and Washington.
During his campaign, Donald Trump’s protectionism irritated China’s leaders, and his victory has created uncertainty about the future.
Chinese state TV network CCTV reported that Chinese President Xi Jinping and the US president elect spoke on the phone. During the conversation, the two leaders agreed to meet soon to discuss bilateral relations and major international issues.
According to press reports, the Chinese leader told Trump that the two countries "need collaboration and can cooperate in many areas."
No direct reference was made to the Republican leader’s threat during the campaign to impose a 45 duty on Chinese imports and his definition of China as an "enemy".
"Good intentions" appear to prevail in the first direct contact between the two leaders, who pledged to meet "as soon as possible" to discuss "bilateral relations and issues of common interest". Trump also said during the phone conversation that the “United States and China can cooperate for their mutual benefit”.
Still, uncertainties surround the new US president with respect to foreign policy, especially compared to Barack Obama’s hands-on approach to Asia. The outgoing president focused in recent years on continent and its main unresolved issues, including the South China Sea conflicts.
At the same time, Beijing’s own problems – from internal reforms to the economic slowdown through changes to the party leadership in late 2017 – will also affect relations between the two superpowers.
Analysts and experts are waiting to see what decisions Trump will make in relation to the Asia-Pacific region and if China can benefit from an eventual US disengagement from it.
During the Obama presidency, a gradual change has taken place in bilateral relations. The promise of friendship and cooperation during the first term was followed by four years of gradual wearing down in relations and rising confrontation.
The highlight in Beijing-Washington relations was the signing of the climate accord at the Paris Conference in 2015. However, uncertainties remain as to the future with respect to energy and environmental policies by President elect Trump, who is anything but an enemy of US oil conglomerates.
The Obama-Xi age also coming to an end amid big doubts and many uncertainties that will weigh heavily on the whole Asia-Pacific region with old alliances at stake in a climate of growing mistrust and mutual suspicion.
Still, some observers agree that economic choices will shape future relations between the two countries.
If Trump sticks to protectionist policies, and imposes customs duties on Chinese products, there could be serious repercussions for the world economy as a whole.
A trade war would cause "incalculable" damage, considering that China – which owns much of the US foreign debt – is not without weapons to retaliate and could launch a counteroffensive.
For the experts, the coming months will give the White House’s new landlord time to assess the relationship with Beijing and the impact of his choices - protectionist or not - not only on the US economy, but also on the world.