Author: Bai Tiantian and Chen Heying

Posted: November 21,2016

The last meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama aimed at ensuring a «smooth transition» of Sino-US relations as China prepares for the uncertainties of a US president-elect whose future adjustments to foreign policies, which remain unclear at the moment, may present challenges to bilateral ties, analysts said.

Meeting on the sidelines of the 2016 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Economic Leaders’ Meeting on Saturday in Lima, Peru, Xi said that he is willing to work with Donald Trump to expand cooperation in various fields at bilateral, regional and global levels, and manage differences in a constructive way, so as to realize a relationship featuring non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation, and push forward China-US ties further from a new starting point, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Xi also spoke of his hope for a «smooth transition» in the Sino-US relationship, calling the period after Trump’s election a «hinge moment» for bilateral ties, AFP reported.

Analysts said that the meeting, as it occurred during a transition period in US politics, was unlikely to have touched on any substantial policy, but serves as a gesture that both countries attach great strategic importance to bilateral ties, amid hopes that a stable relationship can be passed on to the next US administration.

«China attempted to make use of the last meeting between the two leaders to express its expectation for the next administration’s policies toward China, » Liu Weidong, a research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the China Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Sunday.

As for Xi and Obama, the meeting was their third this year and the ninth since Obama took office in early 2009.

Considerable uncertainty

During the meeting, Obama described the Sino-US relationship as «the most consequential in the world.» He told Xi that he has underlined the importance of US-China relations to Trump, and stressed that there should be a smooth transition of bilateral ties in the wake of the US presidential elections.

Analysts said Trump’s lack of experience as a politician and his changing campaign rhetoric have generated considerable uncertainties for future Sino-US ties.

«The phrase ‘hinge moment’ indicates that China had not fully anticipated Trump’s victory in the US election and is now aware of the challenges as Trump is expected to change the US’ China policy,» Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Sunday.

«China hopes that Trump will adopt a less tough stance after the election as he seems to easily resort to confrontation,» Liu said. «Despite the fact that Trump’s policies remain unclear on issues like security, China expects him to be friendly,» said Liu.

In an earlier phone conversation between Xi and Trump, the Chinese president told the US president-elect that «cooperation is the only correct choice for China and the US,» reported Xinhua.

A statement from Trump’s office said the two had established a «clear sense of mutual trust» and Trump believed «the two leaders will have one of the strongest relationships for both countries moving forward.»

Trade war 

Trump’s rise to power may enable a surge in trade frictions between China and the US, experts said.

«China and the US will always need each other no matter who sits in the White House. But given Trump’s protectionist stance, trade conflicts may rise, though an actual trade war can be avoided,» Tao Wenzhao, senior research fellow at the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Wu also agreed that Trump will likely emphasize the economy.

«The good news is that the importance of trade in Sino-US relations will increase, which will in turn help alleviate the tensions of geopolitical competition between the two countries,» Wu said.

On the South China Sea issue, Trump may avoid direct interference and military confrontation as Obama preferred, but simply strengthen the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region for deterrence, analysts said.

But Wu said the Korean Peninsula may become a bigger challenge for both nations.

A White House statement released on Sunday said Obama and Xi affirmed in their meeting their «firm commitment to achieving denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,» Reuters reported.
«As North Korea is seeking to enhance its military capabilities of striking the US homeland, which may come sometime during Trump’s term, there is the possibility, given Trump’s personality, that the US may conduct surgical operations to remove any threat,» Wu said.

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