Donald Trump’s election in the 2016 U.S. presidential race ushers in a period of considerable uncertainty in regard to the future of U.S. policies in the Asia-Pacific and vis-à-vis its relationship with China. In this podcast, Paul Haenle spoke with Dr. Zhao Hai, a research fellow at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University, about China’s initial reactions to Donald Trump’s election and the implications for U.S.-China relations.

Zhao saw opportunities for cooperation with a Trump administration if his pragmatic business tendencies prevail over values and ideology in his foreign policies. Zhao described a split in the Chinese academic community over the consequences of Trump’s presidency for the U.S. presence in Asia. While Chinese scholars who are focused on geopolitical questions are optimistic that under Trump, an inwardly focused U.S. might pull back from the Asia-Pacific, Chinese economists worry about the implications of the protectionist trade policies that Trump repeatedly raised in his campaign rhetoric. The level of uncertainty around Trump’s China policy presents a risk of misaligned expectations for Chinese and Americans. In order to navigate the future challenges in the U.S.-China relationship, Zhao believed the top priority for President-elect Trump should be to set up channels of communication with President Xi Jinping that will allow the two leaders to establish a personal relationship.

Paul Haenle

Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former president George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.

Zhao Hai

Zhao Hai is a research fellow at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University.