Rex Tillerson’s East Asian harm offensive miraculously metamorphosed into a charm offensive when he landed in Beijing.
After using incredibly undiplomatic language, even by the standards of an American diplomat, to threaten North Korean from Seoul, his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping was cordial and positive.
Tillerson said of his meeting with the Chinese President,
“We know that through further dialogue we will achieve a greater understanding, that will lead to a strengthening of the ties between China and the United States and set the tone for our future relationship of cooperation”.
Tillerson went on to state that President Trump looks forward to a future meeting with the President Xi.
These warm words seemed to be at odds with a Tweet that Donald Trump sent out seemingly blaming China for America’s increasingly bellicose stand off with North Korea.
North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been "playing" the United States for years. China has done little to help!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 17, 2017
This exposes two seemingly paradoxical elements of an increasingly confused Trump administration foreign policy agenda.
First of all, it shows yet again that Donald Trump’s rhetoric has few apparent points of contact with that of his diplomatic corps whether it be his Secretary of State or Nikki Hayley, Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
Secondly and most importantly, if Tillerson’s words are to be taken as genuine administration policy (which is anyone’s guess at this point), it could indicate that America’s open hostility to China under Trump combined with prospective overtures towards Russia, has been reversed.
Many expected the Trump administration to engage in cordial relations with Russia whilst threatening China over trade issues in addition to the long running South China Sea dispute.
Although Japan remains militant in respect of the South China Sea conflict, the Philippines, an increasingly distant US ‘ally’, is pursuing a policy of cooperation and reconciliation with China.
In this sense, China has a regional upper-hand in respect of the South China Sea and of course the broader upper hand in a would-be trade confrontation with the US.
Put simply, the US needs China slightly more than China needs the US market. Indeed, the US market is the only strategic value America offers China, that being said, it is an economically powerful added value.
Russia could offer the United States a unique trading partnership, along with opportunities to cooperate against Salifist terrorism in Syria and also Iraq and Libya.
But as things stand, it seems that the Trump administration is going to continue to pursue a third way policy, somewhere between Obama’s support for violent jihdists fighting for regime change in Damascus and joining the Russia/Syrian/Iranian/Hezbollah coalition, on the other end of the spectrum. In any case, a US administration finding common group with Iran, let alone Hezbollah, would be fantastical under any American President, let alone Trump whose only ascertainable foreign policy point of agreement with those surrounding him, is an exaggerated hatred of Iran.
The facts on the ground would indicate that the White House has manifestly given up on either working work or directly opposing Russia in the Middle East. Additionally, the US under Trump appears to be slowly but surely de-funding and losing interest in the fascist regime in Kiev. Against this backdrop, Russia and America may at best become neutral and distant in the wider geo-political chess game.
Donald Trump’s cold meeting with Angela Merkel further solidifies the fact that while Trump may not be interested in cultivating traditional anti-Russian allies, he is equally unable to do anything to create a thaw with Russia.
The conclusion of all this is that, Donald Trump’s presidency may see America deepening its relationship with China because of necessity, while simultaneously ignoring Russia.
This would curiously mean that Trump’s men and women realise something Obama’s never could, namely, that Russia does not threaten US interests nor is Russia going to sit around waiting for America to open up a vaunted new chapter in bilateral relations.
Russia and China are both pursuing their own interests. It is increasingly America that is a hostage to the events created by others. America has been left out of any opportunity to positively contribute to Russia’s sphere of influence and likewise, America is at the mercy of the powerhouse that is China’s economy and her increasingly powerful geo-politcal and regional presence.
For Trump, this is not necessarily a bad thing. His primary focus has been fixing the US economy and addressing burning domestic social issues. An ambivalent US foreign policy may indeed give Trump room to manoeuvre through the swamp until such a time that he is ready to become more assertive in global affairs.