Author: Yang Sheng
Posted on: Global Times, December 14th, 2016
China needs to prepare for an “unconventional diplomatic mentality” from US President-elect Donald Trump and his new cabinet, which is mainly composed of billionaires and hard-line military personnel, whose experience with Asia is limited, analysts said.
The Trump transition team has been revealing the names of the nominees for government positions, including the secretaries of state, defense, treasury and commerce, although the nominations must be approved by lawmakers.
Many of them are unconventional picks for these posts with little or no political experience. General James “Mad Dog” Mattis will become the first serviceman to fill the position of US Defense Secretary since General George C. Marshall in the 1950s, and Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, has been nominated as secretary of state.
“This team will have stronger executive capability and a tougher political stance compared to their predecessors,” An Gang, a senior research fellow at the Pangoal Institution, a Beijing-based public policy research organization, told the Global Times on Wednesday.
“Every US president has to go through a learning curve when it comes to foreign affairs. Normally it takes around six months, but for Trump’s team, as many members have no political experience, including Trump himself, it could take longer and it may be at least a year,” Diao Daming, research fellow at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
“The average age of these team members is more than 60, therefore many of them are savvy in their own fields,” An said.
According to CNN, Mattis is “a storied retired Marine general beloved by his troops whose skeptical views on Iran and appetite for a robust military that is unencumbered by political correctness align closely with those of his new boss.” Mattis has real combat experience in the Middle East and he criticized Obama’s weak policy on the Islamic State.
On China, Mattis said in January 2015 that the US should build “more naval power and warships in light of Beijing’s increasing aggression in the South China Sea,” and “While our efforts in the Pacific to keep positive relations with China are well and good, these efforts must be paralleled by a policy to build the counterbalance if China continues to expand its bullying role in the South China Sea and elsewhere,” the Washington Times reported.
China must be denied a “veto power” over territorial claims, security and economic conditions in the Pacific, he said.
“Trump heavily criticized Obama’s foreign policy during the presidential campaign, and he asked South Korea and Japan to bear more security burden for the US, so some Chinese believed that he would give China more strategic space. But now, Trump’s tweets over the past few days and his cabinet choices show that those optimistic Chinese might have got it wrong,” Diao said.
Apart from secretary of defense, another key role, national security adviser, is also essential, and Trump’s choice for this position is former General Michael T. Flynn, who has 30 years’ experience in the field of military intelligence.
Normally the security adviser is a “coordinator” role, but since Flynn is an experienced and tough serviceman, his role could become more influential and important.
Opposing Obama policies
Trump’s team is different from Obama’s and China needs to learn how to deal with them, but it is too early to say if they are all unfriendly and will take a hard-line on China, but “we still need time to observe,” An said.
Trump’s nominees have obviously been opposed to Obama’s Middle East policies, Diao said, adding that his security team members all have Mideast experience.
“So we are waiting to see if Trump is going to reset the priorities between the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region,” Diao said
Meanwhile, Tillerson, Trump’s choice for secretary of state, is very close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to media reports.
“The US-Russian relationship has many problems, such as Syria and Ukraine, so it’s difficult for them to fix everything in the short-term, but China needs to pay attention to the upcoming changes in US-Russian relations,” An said.
Tillerson is a “dark horse” for secretary of state that no one expected, and just like his future boss, has no political or military experience. As ExxonMobil chief, he is experienced in international business, but his diplomatic outlook is really unconventional, Diao said.
Diao said that Trump may believe he can use strategic or political interests, such as Taiwan, as a bargaining chip to exchange trade interests with China. Trump and Tillerson both have this “business negotiation style,” but in diplomacy, negotiations should not be confused by different issues.
“In the future, Chinese diplomats and those from other countries have to prepare for Trump and Tillerson’s unconventional diplomatic styles,” Diao stressed.