Since the end of the US presidential campaign, Donald Trump and his team of advisers have made statements showing they seek to alter world politics in significant ways. None are quite as important, for world peace and global stability, as the adversarial pronouncements about the People’s Republic of China (PRC) that are now upsetting bilateral relations and generating turbulence in East Asia. While not yet formalised in a coherent policy framework, official and semi-official discourses point to sharpening rivalry, and possibly to an unfolding, and risky, containment effort.At the economic level, the new administration is considering designating China a ‘currency manipulator’ for the first time since 1994, and is proposing punitive tariffs of up to 45% on Chinese-sourced imports. At the strategic level, prominent figures in or close to the new administration have been sending unusually unambiguous messages that the US will use force if necessary to curb China’s growing power and reach in East Asia and the Pacific. In confirmation hearings on 11 January, secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson warned that the US would interdict Chinese naval forces in the South China Seas: ‘We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to these islands also is not going to be allowed.’ It would be a ‘danger to the global economy’ if China were to ‘dictate access to the waterway’ (1). A few days later, Newt Gingrich, former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives (1995-9) and confidant of Donald Trump, told the German weekly Der Spiegel, ‘Well, frankly, on the South China Sea, I suspect we will try to communicate with the Chinese that they are not going to become the leading naval power in our lifetime’ (2).
Asian collision course