Trump is Going to Lose When He Meets With Chinese President Xi Jinping. Bigly.
Ahead Of Crucial Meeting, Trump Is The Underdog
The president’s diplomatic skillset is wanting. Xi Jinping is a competent geopolitical strategist. And as unlikely as it seems, the People’s Republic of China is more popular with Americans than their own commander in chief.
Xi Jinping knows what he’s doing. His consolidation of power to become the “Paramount Leader” of the People’s Republic is controversial in geopolitical circles. What aren’t controversial are the facts surrounding his political victories. Xi was the architect of a sweeping Central Committee decision, which included some three-hundred policy reforms, passed at the Third Plenum in 2013. “Underlying Xi’s vision is a growing sense of urgency”, writes Elizabeth C. Economy in Foreign Affairs. “Xi assumed power at a moment when China, despite its economic success, was politically adrift.”
Crucially: Xi has pushed China onto the geopolitical stage, and tagging along is what Economy calls an implicit fear: that Western political and economic philosophies would weaken the People’s Republic.
Xi Jinping, in other words, has a vision. He has an ideology. He has a worldview. He knows what he’s doing.
President Donald Trump, on the other hand, is inexperienced. And not only in matters of foreign policy and trade. His own sweeping domestic reforms have largely failed. The American Health Care Act is dead. The country over which he presides is so divided, both major political parties have appropriated two moderate Supreme Court nominees as partisan lightning rods. Every new issue, sauf anything daring enough to target the party donors, is a wedge. There seems to be little governing going on.
If he is, indeed, listening to his advisers, he’s listening to woefully inexperienced ones—only slightly less so than the man himself. Setting aside your personal feelings about the president, we can’t deny that he’s new to this—that his diplomatic performances thus far have been (to put it mildly) unpredictable; hanging up on Malcolm Turnbull, a conflictingly jovial and threatening conversation with Enrique Peña Nieto, the bizarre handshake-gate incident with Angela Merkel (which was, we must all admit, most likely caused by the seventy-year-old’s failing auditory system).
In case you require yet more proof of Trump’s underdog status in the Xi Jinping meeting, consider that a significant minority of Americans actually support him. Even fewer trust him to handle foreign policy matters responsibly. A polling average of just 37.7 percent approve of his performance on this issue. An average of 40.3 percent of Americans approve of his job performance overall, with some polls going as low as 34 percent. By contrast, a recent Pew Research Center poll found some 44 percent of Americans approve of the People’s Republic of China, up from 37 percent a year ago.
That said, both sides of the political aisle see their own problems with China, and Xi Jinping in particular. From Pew Global author Richard Wike:
In general, Republicans hold more negative attitudes toward China and express stronger worries about economic challenges in the U.S.-China relationship. Most strikingly, 71% of Republicans say job losses to China are a very big problem for the U.S., compared with only 47% of Democrats. While jobs are the top Republican concern about China, among Democrats it is China’s impact on the global environment. More than six-in-ten Democrats (63%) call it a serious problem, compared with only 44% of Republicans.
Only 37 percent of Americans trust Xi Jinping to “do the right thing” in global affairs, compared to 60 percent who don’t.
So Americans agree: the China relationship demands a strong leader with a strong approach. They disagree, evidently, on the definition of strength. The president does have one purported advantage: hosting the summit at his own Mar-a-lago resort—where some say the commander in chief is most comfortable.
(Photo by Leon Neal – WPA Pool/Getty Images)